James Baldwin Essay

1552 Words Nov 13th, 2012 7 Pages
In James Baldwin’s essay “Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation” in The Fire Next Time, Baldwin advises his black, adolescent nephew living in the 1960’s during the African-American Civil Rights Movement on what living a free life means based on Baldwin’s own experience as an adult. As an existential thinker, Baldwin attributes a person’s identity to the collection of accomplishments and failures in his or her entire lifetime, as opposed to accepting a person as determinately good or bad. In order to be truly free of oppression, according to Baldwin, African Americans must seek to be authentic by not conceding to the expectations and restrictions of racist white Americans. A person’s authenticity lies in …show more content…
By allowing social status, skin color, and money to be the main defining factors of a person’s worth, that person struggles to live an open and ambiguous life. A woman cannot define precisely who she is and what she represents until the moment of her death, though she is constantly surrounded by criticism and the stereotypes of society. If a man or his community have already decided that he is superior, worthless, or content when he has only lived a portion of his life, he will struggle to maintain this rigid identity for himself, resisting even small or positive changes in himself. Though many white men fight with violence, all black men must fight back with acceptance and love, which poses significant physical threat to the black man. The nonviolent black man is brave enough to act on what he knows: a black man is no better or worse than a white man. By acting rationally and without violence, a person can authentically maintain his or her dignity by being respectful, courageous, and accepting. These qualities are especially admirable when they exist in all areas of a person’s life, even in the face of physical danger, violence, and fear. When a person chooses to act on what he or she knows is right, this person understands that “to act is to be committed,” but “to be committed is to be in danger” (9). A white American man takes no risk in claiming that an African American is inferior, especially since his fundamental reason for believing so, that the black
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