"On the other hand, people who imagine history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote…"

“On the other hand, people who imagine 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 to me, 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 white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America.

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 on the middle passage. I am not responsible for the textile mills of Manchester, or the cotton fields of Mississippi. Besides, consider how the English, too, suffered in those mills and in those awful cities! 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 his 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.

On that same day, in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the black American finds himself facing the terrible roster of his lost: the dead, black junkie; the defeated, black father; the unutterably weary, black mother; the unutterably ruined black girl. And one begins to suspect an awful thing: that people believe that they deserve their history, and that when they operate on this belief, they perish. But one knows that they can scarcely avoid believing that they deserve it; one’s short time on this earth is very mysterious and very dark and very hard. I have known many black men and women and black boys and girls who really believed that it was better to be white than black, whose lives were ruined or ended by this belief; and I, myself, carried the seeds of this destruction within me for a long time.”

-

James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt” (via notime4yourshit)

Have been rereading this a lot. Struggling with history. Splitting its apparently wholeness and facade of progress apart. Sitting with it and acknowledging it.

Leave a Reply