Presumptions of Innocence
Summing up the complex sources of violent eruptions in American ghettoes, Baldwin offers a simple explanation: “Negroes want to be treated like men.” But is it too simple? Insofar as Baldwin's claim presumes that the meaning of what it means to “be treated like men” is unproblematic or that all black Americans, regardless of gender, want to be treated that way, it clearly falls short. Although these are serious matters, however, to dismiss Baldwin's point too quickly on the grounds of its universalist language is to miss the larger point: that “people who have mastered Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, Marx, Freud, and the Bible find this statement utterly impenetrable.” 1 Perhaps Baldwin's claim will strike readers as exaggerated, outdated, or merely wrong. But this chapter aims to explore the implications of Baldwin's assessment and his basis for believing that it is true:
The idea seems to threaten profound, barely conscious assumptions. A kind of panic paralyzes their features, as though they
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Publication information: Book title: The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy. Contributors: Lawrie Balfour - Author. Publisher: Cornell University Press. Place of publication: Ithaca, NY. Publication year: 2001. Page number: Not available.
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