“The Fire Next Time” – It is very much a “Race Thing”


Often, in the loud booing internet behind every Black Lives Matter Post or protest, is someone commenting: “it’s not a race thing, stop making it out to include race”. Unironically for 2017, these are the same people that will turn around and accuse BLM protestors or those that kneel for the National Anthem as being “thugs” or attention seekers. Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook” details the phenomenon that occurs every time a someone, other than a white person, demonstrates their displeasure in American Society.

Balwin details the phenomenon and goes onto describe the underhanded comments and double standards that America lives up to. The American society creates and persecutes those men and women of color for expectations that American society has enforced on them. On page 293, Baldwin sums it up expertly:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were…expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.


Although it is a lengthy quote, Baldwin describes, to his relative, the double standard for racism that America has created. America tells people of color, especially black people, that they need to do better, they need to perform similar to white people, but knock them down and ridicule them for trying to follow suit.


One point that Baldwin fails to see is that America wants Black people to be like white people. On the same page he says “There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you.” Although Baldwin’s point is valid, America tells people of color, often and with much gusto, that to conform to the status quo of whiteness is to be accepted. In recent, but not surprising news, Dove released a campaign ad that showed a black woman using their soap that transformed her into a white woman. Not only is this ad similar to harmful racial adverts of the past, it indicates the unchanging ways of America. To be white is to be clean, to be beautiful and to be accepted. But even for a person of color, to aspire to be white is a sign of ridicule and mediocrity. Although Baldwin details it similarly, he does not see how the double standard sets to push people of color to unattainable and even harmful standards.

Baldwin, James. “My Dungeon Shook – Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation” The Fire Next Time. Penguin Books, 1963.


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