Tuesday, August 27, 2013

95 Theses for Christian Racial & Ethnic Unity: #30

have often wondered, and it is not a pleasant wonder, just what white Americans talk about with one another. . .One wishes that Americans – white Americans – would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives. . .The fact that they have not been able to do this – to face their history, to change their lives – hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world. . .White [person], hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read....the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. . .My point of view certainly is formed by my history, and it is probably that only a creature despised by history finds history a questionable matter. On the other hand, people who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. . .This is the place in which it seems most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues....The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea. ["]Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present in the middle passage. I am not responsible for...the cotton fields of Mississippi....I also despise the governors of southern states and the sheriffs of southern counties, and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want?["] But on the same day, in another gathering and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the white American remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.

James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt” (1965), in David Roediger, ed., Black on White: Black Writers on What is Means to Be White (New York: Shocken Books, 1998), 320-322.  

[Read the Introduction to 95 Theses for Christian Racial & Ethnic Unity here.]

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