“…I am aware that no man is a villain in his own eyes. Something in the man knows– must know– that what he is doing is evil; but in order to accept the knowledge the man would have to change. What is ghastly and really almost hopeless in our racial situation now is that the crimes we have committed are so great and so unspeakable that the acceptance of this knowledge would lead, literally to madness. The human being, then, in order to protect himself, closes his eyes, compulsively repeats the crimes and enters a spiritual darkness which no one can describe.
But if it is true and I believe it is, that all men are brothers, then we have the duty to try to understand this wretched man; and while we probably cannot hope to liberate him, begin working toward the liberation of his children. For we, the American people, have created him, he is our servant; it is we who put the cattleprodder in his hands, and we are responsible for the crimes that he commits. It is we who have locked him in the prison of his color.
It is we who have persuaded him that Negroes are worthless human beings and that it is his sacred duty, as a white man, to protect the honor and purity of his tribe. It is we who have forbidden him, on the pain of exclusion from the tribe, to accept his beginnings when he and black people love each other, and rejoice in them, and use them; it is we who have made it mandatory– honorable– that white father should deny black son. These are grave crimes indeed and we have committed them and continue to commit them in order to make money.”
These are the words of the incomparable James Baldwin as written in his notes for Blues for Mister Charlie, a play based loosely on the tragic killing of Emmett Till and set in Plaguetown, U.S.A. Baldwin writes, “The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship.”
While bound by the social categories of race in his descriptions, James Baldwin looses the reader in ways that I have not seen since. While persons are not able to see the vision of a post- racial America, he offers, at least for me, a glimpse of things to come. I believe that there is a cure for this plague and if we do not seek it and find it, race will destroy our ability to belong to ourselves and to each other.
But, as Baldwin points out, we must first take responsibility for what we have created. We created race. We spread it. We were the cause for its outbreak. We have done this to ourselves.
This is what I want to hear from others: “I take responsibility for my part in the spread of race and its traditions of hatred, bullying, exclusion and social favoritism.” We cannot begin to talk about what “they” did to us, if we are not first willing to discuss and be held accountable for what we have done to ourselves. What are you and I doing about race?
I am so tired of the blame game, of race cards, of pointing fingers, of playing the victim. We made up these rules. We sell the tickets and make a profit. We sit in the stands, cheer and jeer. We pick sides. We train and coach and referee. We keep score day after day after day.
And yes, we are responsible for the racist, the racist you and the racist me. Baldwin concludes his notes writing, “We are walking in terrible darkness here and this is one man’s attempt to bear witness to the reality and power of light.” Shine on me, Baldwin. Shine on me.