Blessed Are the Victims?
To extend the inquiry into how race consciousness is sustained and how it affects the recognition of African Americans as free and equal citizens, I return to a point made in chapter 2 about the power of racial images. There, the discussion focused on “Many Thousands Gone” and on Baldwin's treatment of Bigger Thomas as “the dark and dangerous stranger” haunting American imaginations. The point was a simple one: racial images have a significant bearing on the ways black and white Americans perceive themselves and each other. As long as the sources and the effects of those images remain unexamined, Baldwin argues, they perpetuate the power of the color line. Thus, he writes of Bigger Thomas: “To tell his story is to begin to liberate us from his image and it is, for the first time, to clothe this phantom with flesh and blood, to deepen, by our understanding of him and his relationship to us, our understanding of ourselves and of all men.” 1
Relentlessly, therefore, Baldwin probes the images that compress