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Racism is not just a chapter in someone’s history book. Racism is still present in people’s lives, and continuing to disregard this fact now leads to racism becoming an integral part of everyone’s future. This idea is supported by a statement that Baldwin, an American writer, and activist, once made: “History is not our past. History is present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise it’s criminal” (I Am Not Your Negro). Many people ignore the current issue of injustice based on race by saying that racism ended at a certain point in time. While the problem of racial prejudice stands, several authors believe that communication may change the situation.
James Baldwin, in his Notes of a Native Son, writes about his experiences with people from different parts of America and the world and investigates the ideas of hatred and violence. His story shows that history shapes people into who they are and affects the present and the future. Therefore, making the history known and battling the process of alteration can help people to realize the true meaning of every event. Another author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, explores the concept of American democracy as a part of history that is often misinterpreted by people. Coates recalls a quote from a reporter, who asks him “why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence,” causing him to think about the scope of injustice that was and is being overlooked for generations.
The author presents several facts that support this idea and wonders if the notion of the American Dream can be reconstructed. He talks about internalized racism and a necessity to remember the past and resist the urge to create a more comfortable interpretation of history. Both authors present their ideas on communication as they try to speak with older generations and analyze how their efforts can change the current situation of racism in America. In their works, Baldwin and Coates claim that communication between generations and people of America can change the way individuals perceive the problem of racism by spreading information that is not altered or misinterpreted in any way.
Baldwin and Racism
The problem of historical interpretation is reflected in African-American literature of the 20th century where racism becomes one of the central issues for many authors. Writers delve into the peculiarities of the environment and roots of the problem. For instance, Tyson explores several racism forms, outlining institutionalized, internalized, and intraracial racism (Tyson 155). James Baldwin perfectly demonstrates the nature of all forms of racism in his work. In his Notes of a Native Son, he touches upon the issue of race in America and cogitates about conditions under which black people lived and continue to live. Baldwin talks about his father and his perception of racial prejudice in America, outlining some differences in his attitude and the attitude of a younger generation.
Recalling the Detroit race riot, Baldwin demonstrates the atmosphere peculiar to the USA of that period. Radical alterations in peoples mentalities preconditioned the growth of minorities dissatisfaction with their position and with the role they played in society. Here, institutionalized racism shows its potency as Baldwin describes his encounters with white people and talks about the way people viewed the situation of conflict. For that purpose, Baldwin recalls his life in New Jersey, where he encountered the openly hostile type of racism which he never truly experienced before (594). The hatred that filled people’s minds was a signifier of their lack of knowledge and awareness but also of the way the information about black people was presented to them. He notes that he also was influenced by this attitude as he became violent and disoriented. Hatred could affect both sides although only one of them suffers from tremendous consequences.
Coates and Racism
The problem of racism has always been an ongoing issue in America. Origins of this country ascend to the ruthless exploitation of slave labor. Millions of black people were taken away from their homes and forced to work. Being deprived of any rights, they suffered from harsh conditions and contemptuous attitude. For a long period, this pattern had been peculiar to the U.S. society and was considered the only possible way of organizing it. For this reason discrimination and intolerant attitude to minorities imprinted in the peoples mentality. This fact could be regarded as a unique feature of American racism. Despite all attempts to cultivate equality and present the USA as the land of democracy, the old generation realizes the fact that the problem remains topical.
Coates talks about racism from the historical point of view, comparing his own experience with information that he learned during his years at the university. He also explores the concept of internalized racism and dealing with one’s body. Coates notes that “it is traditional to destroy the black body” in America, implying that racism is often viewed as an inherent part of the country’s history. Thus, many people do not perceive the issue of racism in the same way because their knowledge does not allow them to address the facts adequately. The history of racism has been altered, deleted, concealed, and misinterpreted by many persons to create a positive picture that the majority of people would be comfortable and prideful knowing about their country.
Baldwin’s idea of communication can be defined by several statements. First of all, the author examines the concept of acceptance, stating that “the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are” is necessary to change the current situation (Baldwin 604). This statement does not mean that people should blindly accept all attitudes, which ties into the second idea. Baldwin argues that “equal power” is significant as one should speak about the injustices that he or she encounters and fight them to the best of one’s abilities (604). The author believes that by following these two principles, people can start changing not only themselves but also other individuals. The issue of internalized racism is also rooted in hatred for others and oneself and created by the disruption of perceptions of different people. Baldwin concludes that despair and hatred should not be present in any dialogue as they only exacerbate the tension of the issue.
The current situation is complicated by numerous attempts to conceal the social stigma and demonstrate the utopian tolerance of the modern state. In this regard, communication between generations plays a fundamental role in eliminating racism and the cultivation of equality. This idea is supported by Coates who believes that America remains the state for white people as only their contribution to its development is appraised and demonstrated. For instance, Coates is sure that the USA is the state where the rights of people are protected and cultivated as its government of the people remains democratic and tolerant. At the same time, he infers: “what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to mean” (Coates). This question exposes the historical view of black people as some years ago they were not seen as persons with rights and even feelings. Currently, they might be citizens with all rights that are guaranteed by the constitution. However, they still experience the biased attitude and disregard.
Mass media cultivates the idea that America has recovered from racism and moved towards equality (Coates). Here, the importance of dialogue between generations is outlined. Black people who experience discrimination should share their feelings and talk about their experiences to shatter illusions and make individuals think. That is why, in his Letter to My Son, Coates offers his most important memories related to racism. In such a way, addressing his son, Coates means the young generation that is now responsible for the states evolution.
The importance of communication between generations can be evidenced using Baldwin and Coates messages. These people belong to different periods of U.S. history. However, they touch upon the same issues. Both authors are sure that racism in America has its unique character which makes it a more problematic issue. Elimination of racism becomes an extremely arduous task as it is an integral part of peoples mentality. Moreover, numerous attempts to conceal cases of discrimination and display the democratic character of American society only further deteriorate the problem. The communication between generations could help to improve the comprehending of the way problem evolves and figure out the most efficient approach to eliminate it. While older generations can provide their stories as a foundation for dialogue, younger people can take on the responsibility of raising awareness and keeping the information devoid of alterations and misunderstandings. Communication is important not only for white people to learn more about racism. It is also essential for black people to realize their identity and history.
Baldwin, James. “Notes of a Native Son.” California State University, Web.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “Letter to My Son.” The Atlantic, Web.
I Am Not Your Negro. Directed by Raoul Peck, performance by Samuel L. Jackson, Velvet Film, 2016.
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Tyson, Louis. Learning for a Diverse World: Using Critical Theory to Read and Write About Literature. Routledge, 2001.