I was inspired by the movie “I Am Not Your Negro” to reread a bit of James Baldwin. I find his essays every bit as lucid and apposite as I did in the late 60’s. Here’s a sample, in which he is talking about his adolescence:
“I certainly could not discover any principled reason for not becoming a criminal, and it is not my poor, God-fearing parents who are to be indicted for the lack, but this society. I was icily determined–more determined, really, than I then knew–never to make my peace with the ghetto but to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me, before I would accept my “place” in this republic. I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was, and limit me that way, and polish me off that way. And yet, of course, at the same time, I was being spat on and defined and described and limited, and could have been polished off with no effort whatever…
Negroes in this country–and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking exist in any other–are taught to really despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. The world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared.”
There is much more, and the entire essay, “Down at the Cross,” part of The Fire Next Time, is really worth a read.