by Ellen Isaacs

This new film expressing the views of James Baldwin is an emotionally wrenching one. From the scenes of lynched young people, to the beatings of civil rights activists, to the murders of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, it makes you angry and tearful at the same time. Surely the historical wrongs of racism and the police murders of the present have rarely been presented in such a concentrated and affecting way. Neither black nor white viewers can fail to feel the agony of such injustice, eloquently depicted in Baldwin’s words.

But there is a big but. The overwhelming message of the film is that racism is a moral failing of white people, nearly all white people. There are two very brief mentions of the economic purposes of racism – a view of black cotton-pickers in the south accompanied by a line about the need for cheap labor, and a mention of Chase Bank as a benefactor from racism. There are also a few examples of whites who are genuinely anti-racist, such as an early childhood teacher, and whites seen protesting during the civil rights movement. But the overwhelming footage is a portrayal of working and middle class whites displaying virulent racist behavior or enjoying a comfortable or luxurious life-style, oblivious to the suffering around them, and, the implication is, benefiting from it.

Nowhere in the film is there any analysis of where racism comes from, who very purposely created it, or why it is maintained. The implication is thus that it is inherent in most white people. Nowhere do we hear that anti-black racism was developed to justify the African slave trade. Nowhere do we learn that even today, lower wages and inferior services for black citizens save so many trillions of dollars that the economy could not survive without these differentials. Nowhere does Baldwin consider that racism has divided the working class so as to weaken the labor movement and all workers’ struggles for a better life. Nowhere do we learn that the standards of living for all are dragged down by having a lower rung tolerated because of racism.

Baldwin does say that he never joined the Black Muslims or the Panthers because he does not believe that all whites are devils. But his film leaves the impression that he likes or has hope for very few white people. Despite the footage of some valiant white participants in the struggles of the 60s, he does not comment on the multiracial nature of parts of the civil rights and other movements or seem to hold out hope for interracial friendship, respect or struggle, despite fearing that the cancer of racist brutality will destroy our society. His main vision of how whites should respond to their recognition of racism is to apologize.

As an alternative, this blog presents the view that racism is a tool, a vicious tool, of capitalism to divide and weaken us all. This is not to deny the overwhelmingly unequal consequences of racism on black Americans. However, we endeavor to explain that racism is against the interests of all workers, and we must make it our priority to befriend, love and struggle together with one another.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: