Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for James Baldwin's "Notes Of A Native Son."
Notes Of A Native Son, James Baldwin, The Dial Press, New York, 1963
Recently, in a blog entry, I went on my “soap box” to speak about those now seemingly endless references, by black and white liberals alike, to the ‘good old days' of the black civil rights movement and how far the black liberation struggle has come here in America so that even one (harried and vilified) black man can be President of the United States. This sentiment is codified by the ‘post-racial’ aura (or rather, in truth, the ‘benign neglect’ aura) that surrounds the subject of race lately. By reference to the the good old days these liberals have simply appropriated the catch words of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, names, forever, associated with the high-water marks of resistance to black segregation back in the early 1960s to their own uses. Moreover, to embellish the myth they have created a Martin Luther King who apparently was nothing short of the black ‘messiah’ rather than a man made of clay, a great deal of clay, and in turn have emasculated Malcolm X, the real “truth to power” speaker on race of the era, into a harmless icon suitable for framing.
The author under review, James Baldwin, fortunately, would have none of that. He, in a less overtly inflammatory and more literary but nevertheless powerful way, was in that Malcolm X “truth to power” mode. And, my friends, some of the essays in this book make my case, and his case, far more eloquently than this writer ever could. Here is a man hard, hard church-brought up as only fundamentalist churches can distort a child, preacher father-raised and beaten-down for doing things, right or wrong, racially put upon incessantly whenever he stepped outside the Harlem prison-ghetto where he was sentenced yet who did not duck the hard, hard truth that native son he might be but ‘invisible’ native son was the real program for those with black skin.
And why is James Baldwin a truth-teller, a “talented-tenth” truth-teller who has something to teach us today in racially “benignly neglectful” America. Well, read about his Harlem of the 1930s and 40s. Sound familiar? Read about his going “South” in those days, not the Route 95 urban corridor South but the outskirts. Sound familiar? Read the title essay about a proud black man (James’ father) beaten down by the deeply internalized pathologies that race and poverty create. Hell, even read his little puff piece about protest social novels where he takes his literary distance from his “Native Son” father, Richard Wright. Yes, a few more James Baldwins are on the order of the day. Let the liberals have their old timey memories. Just stay out of James’ way.