I Am Not Your Negro
by Tony Medley
Runtime 93 minutes.
This is James
Baldwin, an angry
black man ranting and raving and revising history to fit his narrow
concepts of how he would like people to view the world. His view is so
glaringly dishonest it can only be properly reviewed by quoting from
him. He hoists himself on his own petard.
Later in the film on
a clip from the Dick Cavett show, after making all these
generalizations, Baldwin admits that he doesn’t know how white people
feel, which seems to render all that he has said before, all the
conclusions he has drawn and states as fact, as meaningless.
characterizes American whites as “the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel
white majority…I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the
heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded
themselves for so long that they do not think that I am human. I base
this on their conduct and not what they say. And that means that they
themselves are moral monsters.
“A black man who
sees the world, for example, as John Wayne sees it would not be an
eccentric patriot, but a raving maniac. The truth is that this country
does not know what to do with its black population, dreaming if anything
like the Final Solution.
“I’ve always been
struck in America by an emotional poverty so bottomless and a terror of
human life, of human touch so deep that virtually no American appears
capable to achieve any viable organic connection between its emotional
stance and his private life. This failure of the private life has always
had the most devastating effect on American public conduct and on
black-white relations. If Americans were not so terrified of their
private selves it would never have become so dependent on what they call
the Negro problem. This problem, which they invented in order to save
their purity, made of them criminals and monsters and it is destroying
them. And this, not from anything blacks may or may not be doing, but
because of the role of a guilty and constricted white imagination as a
sign to the Blacks.”
The paragraph above
is spoken over a film clip of a movie where Richard Widmark is
brutalizing Sidney Poitier in “No Way Out” (1950) and followed up by
director Raoul Peck, who is a political activist and was the Haiti
Minister of Culture, with clips from other movies about blacks and
whites. Baldwin goes on to talk about mixed relationships between black
men and white women (he ignores black women with white men) and blames
all the negativity on white people.
Peck shows clips of
the nonsense that goes on on the Jerry Springer show, a show that
showcases weirdos, to generalize about American culture.
Baldwin goes on to
add generalization upon generalization to give his biased slant on
everything, in accordance with the incendiary rantings quoted above.
Peck uses lots of archival films of Baldwin speaking himself, and he was
an eloquent speaker that gives much more impact to his ideas than they
deserve. Other words written by Baldwin are spoken by Samuel L. Jackson
with much less effect.
Peck closes by
showing Baldwin saying, “In this country for a dangerously long time
there have been two levels of experience one, to put it cruelly, is
summed up in the images of Gary Cooper and Doris Day, two of the most
grotesque appeals to innocence the world has ever seen; and the other,
subterranean and dispensable and denied can be summed up in the tone and
in the face of Ray Charles and there has never been any genuine
confrontation between these two levels of experience.” Peck then segues
from a picture of a Technicolor beautiful Doris Day singing a song to
black and white stills of black women hanging from trees after being
Peck’s editing of
various Hollywood films into the narrative is reminiscent of Joseph
Goebbels (Nazi Minister of Propaganda) and Leni Riefenstahl, intending
to incite racial hatred with little or no interest in truth or context.
In the end, this film is a racist polemic using the words of an angry
black sophist to disparage and impugn white Americans.
Here's a response
to this review from one reader:
Scratch another one from my
"must see" list. Your characterization of Baldwin as, "an angry black
sophist", seems much too charitable. No doubt he was talented but the
guy was really a hate-filled psychotic. Baldwin philosophical wisdom:
“All racist positions baffle and
appall me. None of us is that different from one another, neither that
much better nor that much worse. Furthermore, when one takes a position
one must attempt to see where that position inexorably leads. One must
ask oneself, if one decides that black or white or Jewish people are, by
definition, to be despised, is one willing to murder a black or white or
Jewish baby: for that is where the position leads. It
does? And if one blames the Jew for having become a white
American, one may perfectly well, if one is black be speaking out of
nothing more than envy.” How
Being homosexual and
anti-American made him a perfect fit into the French literary world.
Other blacks were less impressed. After a TV appearance with
Baldwin, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was secretly recorded by the F.B.I.
saying that he was, “put off by the poetic exaggeration in Baldwin’s
approach to race issues.” Author Ralph Ellison wrote to a counterpart,
that, "he [Baldwin] doesn’t know the difference between getting religion
and going homo.” Harold Cruse, a scholar of black intellectual history
wrote: “Within the frame of superficial social insights, Baldwin’s
literary skills have seduced many people to accept as profound a message
that was, from the first, rather thin, confused and
impressionistic.” Eldridge Cleaver's "Soul On Ice" assessment was even
more dismissively harsh as he disavowed his initial admiration for, “the
cover and camouflage of the perfumed smoke screen of his prose”, and
called him a "jive ass".
he's been dead for almost 30 years though the relevance of his racial
vitriol escapes me. In any case aside from financial considerations, I'm
still trying to figure out why anyone would want this rancid little man
to be their, "Negro".
words: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so
stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced
to deal with pain."
In Baldwin's case he clung to
his "hate" because it was a part of his "schtick", and he knew that if
he let it go, he would be forced to deal with reality. If he was still
with us, that would be the painful "reality" of what 50 years of
solicitous attention by the Democrat Party, as well as "black leaders"
and icons like James Baldwin, have done to black faith, family, and