Part of My Insanity: I See Inequality

“Something very sinister happens to people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become… The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality–for this touchstone can only be oneself.”

–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

I really liked this quotation (above) from James Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time, which includes two essays–a letter on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation and an autobiographical piece. I feel that this and other parts of the book, which was published in 1963, still ring true today.

All my life I have been hyper-aware of people’s tendency to avoid mentioning taboos, like race and sexual orientation. I think I adopted the tendency as my own for many years because I was so keenly aware of it, even though avoidance goes against my nature. I love talking about race, especially with people of  different races. And I love direct, blunt interaction, which is rare in American culture.

The only discussion of race I probably heard as a child was education at school about how things were so much better than they had been. However, in my experience, I saw that race was still very powerful, seemingly more important than character; it determined who people married, who liked who at school, which girls were prettiest, who had the most desireable hair, who was smartest at school, who had the most money.

I often wonder why I didn’t trust myself and my perception of a racist reality over the heaven-like reality suggested by people’s avoidance of race discussion. People’s silence on race implies that everything is okay and that the inequality and racism that I perceive is all in my head.

I can only guess that I believed in the crowd more than myself for so many years because standing my ground would have resulted in a me-against-the-world situation; I had no one else to confirm the reality I saw.

At least that’s the challenge I face today in telling my story. I fear I’ll be labeled a “troublemaker,” or insane for seeing same-race relationships and continuing inequality in education as reflective of Americans’ deep-seated racism. I say deep-seated because it’s survived so many struggles, such as the civil rights movement and changes in laws and public opinion.

Going back to Baldwin’s quote, I don’t think racial separation is natural in this country. I think racial divisions are the result of people distrusting their reactions and desires. I think we yearn to be together, but fear of not fitting in and displeasing others conquers that yearning.

I had a thought last night that when we leave this world or if we ever end up in a spirtitual world together–black, white, Arab, Asian, etc.–it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be as separate as we are in this world’s so-called “reality,” which does not accurately reflect people’s true desires.

It’s unfortunate that we have to live in a world with so many barriers (race, income, religion) between souls that might really enjoy each other’s company if they got to spend time together. Souls that might even change the world if they had the chance to intermingle.

Of course, I believe in soul mates, an idea that’s largely discredited by the culture I live in, so all of this may sound like craziness. Luckily, sometimes I’m unafraid of seeming crazy.


1 Comment so far
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I definitely agree with you here, it drives me crazy how people blindly and vehemently proclaim that no racial things exist, just because they want to believe that.

I’ve always kind of thought that when they did that, they were doing it because they were afraid of acknowledging that racism did exist, and thus they would face the cognitive dissonance between that and their mental blocking of anything of the sort.

It’s an interesting point you make too about how us being so divided inherently blocks souls from meeting that would otherwise go very good together.

Good stuff man!

Comment by adifferentpace

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