I will state flatly that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long. They have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long. The effect in their personalities, their lives, their very grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii. They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history, a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.
— James Baldwin
Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserved what happened to them before.
— Chris Rock
Back in the late ’80s, I signed up for a “creative writing” seminar at a prestigious Chicago university as led by a widely respected white, bow-tie-clad, fifty-ish author-professor. In the very first session, he asked the class of 15 students to name our favorite American author. The students responded with Faulkner, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the like. The professor nodded approvingly at the mention of each of these literary giants’ name.
When my turn came, I responded with, “James Baldwin.” (Baldwin had recently died).
“Baldwin?!” the prof practically shouted. “Hell….he was no goddamn writer. His one-trick pony is named racism.”
The teacher glared at me as his cheeks began to flare into a bright pinkness. He pointed an accusatory finger directly at me as I suddenly realized that I was the only black person in class. His neck veins began pulsing. I feared he might stroke out or have a heart attack right there in class.
After taking a couple of deep breaths, this world renowned author-teacher lowered his finger and said in a more subdued, almost conspiratorial tone. “My God…ah…Mr. Dyer, is it?” he asked. I nodded. “That man Baldwin’s racism is shot right through every word he writes and it runs right off every single page.”