By Alex Zamalin
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Extra info for African American Political Thought and American Culture: The Nation’s Struggle for Racial Justice
Three months before “Notes” was published (November 1955), there was popular uproar over the murder of a fourteen year old, African American boy, Emmett Till. He was brutally lynched for transgressing the deeply etched line against miscegenation, whistling at a white woman in a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. One month after “Notes” was published, Rosa Parks refused to be rendered immobile and second-rate in the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. At the same time, “Notes” modeled the exemplary self-examination Baldwin believed white Americans had refused.
No one seems to feel that the city belongs to him. 70 Trapped by feelings of loneliness, suicide, depression and anxiety throughout his years in Paris he realized that the feelings were not geographically bound. Baldwin’s history was ignored by one of his most distinguished contemporaries: the political theorist Hannah Arendt. 72 Readers of Partisan Review, Commentary, The New Yorker and The Nation, where both Baldwin and Arendt had been regularly published, would have noticed the former’s inversion of the latter’s account: the social over the public, necessity over choice, division over collectivity, rapaciousness over solidarity and self-interested profit making over public virtue.
White citizens who work to acknowledge and renounce the social, economic and political advantage white skin offers are needed,83 but widespread white moral apathy could easily continue to frustrate change. Finally, a revised understanding of equality as fairness rather than sameness—one that accounts for structural constraints that shape one’s life chances— could force people to rethink policies of color blindness,84 but would alone do little to address the paternalism that could be embedded within them.
African American Political Thought and American Culture: The Nation’s Struggle for Racial Justice by Alex Zamalin