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August 03, 2003

James Baldwin on the Outsider

Back in the bad old days of SCAA, we had to deal with a number of problems and issues. In case I ever have to make some criticism of a certain type, you may hear me mention the 'Bulworth Theory'. I thought 'Bulworth' was one of the worst movies that ever got critical acclaim. There were worse but I don't want to go there.

Here's what I'm talking about:

"For several years it had been his fancy that he belonged in
those dark streets uptown precisely becuase the history written
in the color of his skin contested his right to be there. He
enjoyed this, his right to be being everywere contested;
uptown, his alienation had been made visible and therefore,
almost bearable. It had been his fancy that dangere there, was
more real, more open, than danger was downtown and that he,
having chosedn to run these dangers, was snatching his manhood
from the lukewarm waters of mediocrity and testing it in the
fire. He had felt more alive in Harlem, for he had moved in a
blaze of rage and self-congratualation and sexual excitement,
with danger, like a promise, waiting for him everywhere. And,
nevertheless, in spite of all this daring, this runing of risks,
the misadventures which had actually befallen him had been banal
indeed and might have befallen him anywhere. His dangerous,
overwhelming lust for life had failed to involve him in anything
deeper than perhaps half a dozen extremely casual
acquaintanceships in about as many bars. for memories, he had
one or two marijuana parties, one or two community debauches,
one or two girls whose names he had forgotten, one or two
addresses which he had lst. He knew that Harlem was a
battlefield and that a war was being waged there day and night
-- but of the war aims he knew nothing.

"And this was due not only to the silence of the warriors --
their silence being, anyway spectacular in that it rang so loud:
it was due to the fact that one knew of battles only what one
had accepted of one's own. He was forced, little by little,
against his will, to realize that in running the dangers of
Harlem he had not been testing his manhood or heightening his
sense of life. He had merely been taking refuge in the outward
adventure in order to avoid the clash and tension of the
adventure proceeding inexorably within. Perhaps this was why he
sometimes seemed to surprise in the dark faces which watched him
in a hint of amused and not entirely unkind contempt. He must be
poor indeed, they seemed to say, to have been driven here. They
knew that he was driven, in flight: the liberal, even
revolutionary sentiments of which he was so proud meant nothing
to them whatever. He was just a poor white boy in trouble and it
was not in the least original of him to come running to the niggers."

James Baldwin - Another Country - 1960

Incidently, this is exactly why I respect Eminem (as far as that goes) who is no tourist. He's keeping it as real as anyone.

Posted by mbowen at August 3, 2003 03:13 PM

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