James Baldwin

Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it.

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1965, the great American writer James Baldwin penned an essay for Ebony magazine entitled “White Man’s Guilt.”

Baldwin’s words are rooted in the struggles of a time different from our own, but he offers timeless reflections on history, memory, and inherited responsibility. His essay also resonates with our own era because it concerns the same history, the same racial inheritance, with which we struggle today as we seek to come closer to healing the racial divisions of his society and ours.

Here is an extended quotation from Baldwin’s essay, which brilliantly deconstructs a response from Americans to their own history which, unfortunately, is still all too common:

This is the place in which, it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America.

The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea: Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway, it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present on the middle passage. I am not responsible for the textile mills of Manchester, or the cotton fields of Mississippi. Besides, consider how the English, too, suffered in those mills and in those awful cities! I, also, despise the governors of Southern states and the sheriffs of Southern counties; and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as his capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want?

But, on the same day, in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of his heart always, he, the white man, remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.

On that same day, in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of the black man’s heart always, he finds himself facing the terrible roster of the lost: the dead, black junkie; the defeated, black father; the unutterably weary, black mother; the unutterably ruined black girl. And one begins to suspect an awful thing: that people believe that they deserve their history ….

And if black people fall into this trap, the trap of believing that they deserve their fate, white people fall into the yet more stunning and intricate trap of believing that they deserve their fate, and their comparative safety; and that black people, therefore, need only do as white people have done to rise to where white people now are.

Baldwin also has this to say about the importance of history in the present:

[H]istory, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past.

On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.

The entire essay is well worth reading.

Hat tip: Holly Fulton

22 Responses to “James Baldwin on race: ‘Do not blame me’”


  1. bobbo says:

    "Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it." /// That's exactly correct.

    I turned to the extended text because "The Invisible Man" was quite significant to me, one of the top 10 books I have ever read. To my credit, before I lifted my finger from the clicking on the link, I did recall its author was Ralph Ellison. Not all black authors write the same, but at least in Invisible Man, the author did not focus on race politics and finger pointing, more his own personal impact? ((Forgive me if I have that wrong, been years since I read it.)) Ironically, it is also true that what Ellison wrote completely supports Baldwins point.

    Isn't it the truth that most Americans don't know their history at all, or is that my own loose roots? But I would confront Mr. Baldwin and say: "That's right and neither are you." Most people don't accept responsibility for their OWN actions. Asking them/us to pick up responsibility for generations past is really beyond the pale, a foolish act of literary hubris. Perhaps appropriate for a few small number of people as all fiction is.


  2. James says:

    Bobbo, as I recall, Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man offered an unsparing look at what it really means to be black in this country, despite nominal equality and the good intentions of most white people. While much of that examination came through the personal experiences of the main character, if I remember correctly, Ellison also dealt squarely with such political issues as Marxism's relationship to black struggles, and black nationalism.

    As for whether anyone should be responsible for the actions of the past, as you know, I don't believe that anyone should be. Instead, however, we need to be unsparing in our honesty about our own society and how it came to be, and to take responsibility for our own part in perpetuating, or not, the legacy we have been given.

    I believe that Baldwin's central point in the quoted passage is the hypocrisy, the contradiction he observes in our society: too many Americans insist that they bear no responsibility for the actions of their predecessors and do not benefit from them, while simultaneously embracing that heritage and the privileges which it offers.


  3. bobbo says:

    James, what really hit me as a young lad is that a persons situation can get pretty bleak and maybe kinda a first person recitation of mental depression, for good reason, but still depression. Feeling separated from society. There could be Marx and all kinds of other good stuff there that did not stick with me. Invisible Man is on my list of books to reread, along with Catch-22, The Arrangement.

    I don't think ANY American bears responsibility for slavery, so "too many" is a bit extreme. Most people experience benefit and burdens from their Mom and Dad. Not too much, very extended and debatable, from the Grandparents. Great Grandparents becomes a literary device. Very few people, even rednecks, embrace the institution of slavery but those that do are shameful. Privileges?–or advantages? Yes, as you say, we all have the advantages of slavery. Again as you have said, including todays blacks. All very complicated.

    You know–divorce is "no-fault" in many states. Not that a marriage failing is ever no fault==it is full of fault almost NEVER a 50/50 thing. In fact, some great injustices are done when a cheater lying scumbag is treated as if he/she were a contributing partner to the relationship. Nonetheless, those states having community property say that no-fault "as a whole" "as a societal statement regarding the basis of marriage" "for the efficient management of the legal process" "for the ultimate benefit to the family" its "BETTER TO HAVE NO-FAULT." And that is with lives in being. I have no problem at all applying the same sort of broad social policy to the sins of the past and the benefits of today.

    Suck it up and get on with it.


  4. James says:

    Feeling separated from society. There could be Marx and all kinds of other good stuff there that did not stick with me.

    Like all great literature, The Invisible Man is timeless, and not bound to its discussion of such specifics as Marxism (or Booker T. Washington's approach to racial politics, which I believe also gets a nod). Its concern is for such timeless themes as isolation, alienation, and discrimination. The fact that it exposed a society's underbelly in a new way was important, but even a pedestrian novel could have done that reasonably well.

    Most people experience benefit and burdens from their Mom and Dad. Not too much, very extended and debatable, from the Grandparents.

    Actually, while it's less direct, most people very much experience benefits and burdens from their grandparents. There tends to be very little change from one generation to the next, and thus only a bit more between any two generations. In other words, the circumstances of one's grandparents goes a long way towards explaining what most peole have in life.

    Yes, as you say, we all have the advantages of slavery. Again as you have said, including todays blacks. All very complicated.

    It's complicated, but it's easy to go a bit further than you just did. We all enjoy advantages from our nation's exploitation of slavery, but blacks are, as a group, strongly disadvantaged relative to whites because of that history. You can make of that what you will, but I don't want to see anyone downplaying that fact or suggesting that it should be ignored because life is complicated. Now, those complications can very much be a part of what, if anything, one wants to do about this ….

    You know–divorce is “no-fault” in many states.

    Well, this is certainly different, Bobbo. "No-fault" is a legal approach to granting divorce. Essentially, it holds that divorce can be granted without showing that either partner breached the marital contract, and avoids having to show (or pretend) that either party was unfaithful or committed some other wrong.

    Now, would it be helpful, in the case of our racial past, to absolve anyone of guilt, to say that we're not concerned with assigning blame? When it comes to those alive today, I don't think there's any question of blaming anyone. When it comes to those who participated in slavery, where is the social benefit in absolving them, or even in agreeing not to examine what they did? Grievous wrongs were committed in this history, and we all benefit now if we confront that history honestly.

    If you're thinking more about using the no-fault analogy to argue that we shouldn't look into who benefits and suffers today, I would want to know why you think this is the right analogy, just as if you were proposing that in any other area, such as environmental pollution or terrorism, we simply ignore the past and move on. I don't think the analogy can be applied to every situation.


  5. bobbo says:

    HAH! I say HAH!!!!!!!

    Once again you have taken my winning argument and tossed it aside as so much dross. I'd be really upset if I invested anything other than my intellectual vigor into an argument. Who cares about intellect when the world is driven by emotion?

    Your summary of Invisible Man really encourages me to read it next. I wonder if you remember it better, read it more recently, or just understood it better on first reading? No need to answer that-my emotions are involved.

    There is no "guilt" in divorce, therefor no absolving. Guilt and Responsibility–such a 19th Century concept. This is the 21st Century man–suck it up and get with it. You need a new vocabulary and the concepts that go with it.

    "I would want to know why you think this is the right analogy" /// I think it is in each quoted phrase I gave you but mostly the last one: “for the ultimate benefit to the family”–in this case the family of man, black and white living together with the dead hand of history removed.

    I actually just now wonder if you are conflating the real benefit of understanding history, knowing one's roots, appreciating all the various threads of conflicting interests that have brought us to todays circumstances with some kind of obligation to do something about it?

    "If" we were living in a race consciousness free society, what would be the benefits/harm of not knowing/acknowledging our past?? Eventually we will get there no matter what else we do.


  6. bobbo says:

    James–thinking about it, my reference to "conflation" above is not very clear. It comes back to the main confusion between us==WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?? That "Plan." It is very definitional.

    Do you just think people should understand their history more? People would of course be better off the more they knew about anything. Knowledge is power afterall.

    Question: Would people be better off to understand the history of race/slavery in America, or to understand the value of getting vaccinations?

    Once one understand the value of getting vaccinations, it goes almost without saying that one should TAKE ACTION AND GET VACCINATIONS. Please tell us what action you think would appropriate, only as an example if needs be, once one comes to understand the Living Consequences.


  7. James says:

    I wonder if you remember it better, read it more recently, or just understood it better on first reading?

    I'm betting, Bobbo, that I've simply talked about the novel with people more recently than you have. My memory's not all that great, but it's easier to remember when the recollections are periodically refreshed.

    There is no “guilt” in divorce, therefor no absolving.

    I agree as a general matter, although I'm sure there are divorces where one party or the other bears guilt for how the marriage is ending.

    As that comment might suggest, I'm not prepared to join you in saying that guilt has no place in our modern world, but I do believe that guilt has no place in the issues we're discussing on this blog. Hopefully you agree that responsibility is, in fact, more important to citizenship in the 21st century than ever before.

    I think it is in each quoted phrase I gave you but mostly the last one

    I understand that you believe that, like no-fault divorce, our society's racial past is best addressed by simply declaring a fresh start, without doing anything about the lingering racial animosities or inequalities.

    My question was why you believe the analogy holds: that is, why no-fault divorce is like this situation, such that we can realize that the same solution can apply. As I mentioned, there are many circumstances in which you wouldn't want to simply let go of the past. For instance, if your neighbor burned down your house.

    I actually just now wonder if you are conflating the real benefit of understanding history, knowing one’s roots, appreciating all the various threads of conflicting interests that have brought us to todays circumstances with some kind of obligation to do something about it?

    That's a good thought, Bobbo, but in fact I believe there are many benefits to history which are unconnected to any obligation to do something about the past. That's why I talk about understanding our heritage, good and bad, about learning from the past so that we avoid the same mistakes and gain insights into human nature (for instance, the fact that slavery was never about race), and about understanding how our society became what it is, so that we know how to proceed together. Only in some cases would we decide to proceed by recognizing some form of obligation related to the past.

    “If” we were living in a race consciousness free society, what would be the benefits/harm of not knowing/acknowledging our past??

    I think the harm is clear, Bobbo.

    If we were to suddenly become truly unconscious of race, we would not be able to recognize certain types of enduring injustice in our society. If it's true, as I've said, that black families still suffer material harm because of past slavery and racism, then this is a problem which would exist, and which we would fail to see, even if we could suddenly become color-blind.

    Of course, we are not about to become unaware of race. One of our contemporary problems is that many white people believe that we are, or are even gradually becoming unconscious of race themselves. However, few black Americans can be unaware of how their lives are still deeply impacted by our recent history of race, or of how black people are still frequently treated differently in this country.


  8. James says:

    It comes back to the main confusion between us==WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?? That “Plan.”

    Please tell me, Bobbo, that you aren't asking me that question again. Haven't I answered you sufficiently? If not, are you asking for more clarification about my answer, which can be summarized as "education and dialogue"? Or are you asking me to endorse a different kind of plan than I do?

    Question: Would people be better off to understand the history of race/slavery in America, or to understand the value of getting vaccinations?

    Would we be better off with a just, equitable, and whole society, or with fewer unnecessary deaths due to failure to be vaccinated?

    I'd say that's a classic apples-and-oranges problem, Bobbo. I'm not too worried about it, though. It's like asking me whether it's more important for children to learn to read or do math: it's an academic question in more ways than one, since we can and should try for both (and here, too, success will always be only partial).

    Please tell us what action you think would appropriate, only as an example if needs be, once one comes to understand the Living Consequences.

    I think there are a host of examples of actions which might be appropriate in response to understanding this history, Bobbo.

    For instance, this summer on his MSNBC show, Chris Matthews declared that he was in favor of reparations for slavery, but only from the southern states, because the north wasn't heavily involved in slavery and fought a moral crusade to end it.

    For someone like Chris Matthews, then, who is inclined to believe in reparations, learning this history would clearly cause him to support reparations from the entire nation, not just the south, since his position was based on a misunderstanding of our history.

    A more salient example might be how to approach racial equality today. I hear frequently from audience members and others that they don't believe in programs to increase racial equality because they are convinced that black people have done this to themselves in recent times, and because they are convinced that their own present good fortune has nothing to do with the suffering of others.

    Once these people learn the truth, of course, then they naturally have to change their minds about these present social issues.

    For that matter, there are issues beyond race at stake here.

    Political scientists have found that Americans are much less likely to support welfare if they hold common, but false, beliefs about welfare and race (such as welfare being aimed largely at black citizens, or that welfare encourages dysfunctional behaviors which have led to racial inequality).

    Therefore, the natural degree of public support for public assistance programs is not currently being reflected. If the public had a better understanding of the facts we discuss here, then it's clear that there would be a different level of support for such programs, and they would be set up and funded differently.


  9. bobbo says:

    Good Morning James

    Yea, we keep going around 2-3 issues. I guess being "unresolved" will do that? Since I don't do this once a week, repeating myself seems "fresh" to me.

    YES ABSOLUTELY IT COMES BACK TO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO ABOUT "IT." Learning about our past only goes so far. Your comments about Chris Matthews are right on. I wonder what he would say when given the facts that he must at some level know? You know he is older than he looks, probably an early brain fart. But you continue to be disingenuous on the subject. You say learn the history, and I think I know as much as the next casual reader in the field, and when I determine that Welfare has a disproportionate benefit to blacks and as such can be viewed as reparations, you say "NO it can't." So you disagree with my action but offer none of your own. You are like current repuglicans on health care, stimulus, jobs or anything else===no ideas, just the party of "NO."

    Is "education" supposed to make all people think the same? I think it may resolve some issues, but not all issues. Life is like that.

    Reread your recent post. You hint twice you are going to give examples of appropriate action but again all you do is point out how other people are wrong. Thats not an example of what to affirmatively DO

    I support a stronger safety net system based on common decency==not based on any understanding of the past harms caused to blacks. Your insistence that benefits flow to the target group only with the right intent is rather short sighted.

    I also found your response to Rick

    http://living.jdewperry.com/2009/08/katrina-brown

    to be really bad==your penultimate paragraph. I want to read it a few more times before responding. Surely, I read it wrong?


  10. James says:

    I wonder what he would say when given the facts that he must at some level know?

    I'm not convinced that Chris Matthews must know these facts. You could see, for instance, that he started to say that there wasn't slavery in the north at all, and he stopped and corrected himself. Yet he was adamant that his beloved Pennsylvania had some sort of sterling reputation on slavery, and that his own ancestors had fought and died to end slavery. So I think he's reasonably knowledgeable and is honest, but may simply not have even a basic understanding of the role of slavery in this country's history.

    you continue to be disingenuous on the subject … when I determine that Welfare has a disproportionate benefit to blacks and as such can be viewed as reparations, you say “NO it can’t.”

    But I give you a specific reason why I can't imagine how welfare can be viewed as reparations.

    Specifically, I've noted that most welfare money goes to people who aren't black, and that welfare isn't trying to eliminate the racial gap, and that it isn't motivated out of a desire to address this history.

    I don't see how the concept of "reparations" can be stretched to include a policy like that … or, if so, why our national defense or highway spending isn't reparations, too.

    So you disagree with my action but offer none of your own.

    No, I keep offering you my own actions. You just don't find them suitable, and keep wanting me to endorse public policies I don't agree with.

    Is “education” supposed to make all people think the same?

    No, education is supposed to make people think independently. It is also, of course, intended to give us all a common set of facts, so that, for instance, we can debate the meaning of our history and what to do about it, but that we all understand the essentials of what that history is.

    You hint twice you are going to give examples of appropriate action but again all you do is point out how other people are wrong.

    You asked for examples of what actions might be appropriate, and I gave you those. The fact that I'm not endorsing those examples is beside the point.

    I have repeatedly told you what I do, and what I believe must be done about this history. I did so today in these comments. You just seem to want something more, like government spending programs, perhaps. That's fine if that's what you want, but please don't expect me to endorse anything like that.

    I support a stronger safety net system based on common decency==not based on any understanding of the past harms caused to blacks. Your insistence that benefits flow to the target group only with the right intent is rather short sighted.

    First of all, I haven't insisted that benefits should flow only to blacks. In fact, that's precisely your complaint, that I'm not calling for any such thing.

    Second, there's a position between a public "safety net" that is based only on current need and sending all benefits towards groups which have suffered past harm. Just as it is possible to take past harms seriously as informing our current dilemmas, without losing our focus on present injustices as the basis for our social actions.

    I also found your response to Rick … to be really bad==your penultimate paragraph.

    You're probably right, Bobbo, but there are a lot of responses on that page–and my most recent paragraphs, as of this writing, are about a minor, concrete issue, so I doubt that's what you're referring to. Could you perhaps cut and paste a few words from the passage you're looking at? (You could also grab a link directly to a particular comment; it's the one with the comment's date and time.)


  11. bobbo says:

    you continue to be disingenuous on the subject … when I determine that Welfare has a disproportionate benefit to blacks and as such can be viewed as reparations, you say “NO it can’t.”

    But I give you a specific reason why I can’t imagine how welfare can be viewed as reparations.

    Specifically, I’ve noted that most welfare money goes to people who aren’t black, and that welfare isn’t trying to eliminate the racial gap, and that it isn’t motivated out of a desire to address this history. (((Assuming that is in italics, I figured it out from the attached email I sent you regarding spam. Hotmail attachments show the coding used. Most instructing.))

    OK–finally, I think we have a crystal clear example of how "twisty" you are. But I'll leave you a chance, an opportunity for my own guilt/my own lesson, by going from memory. We had discussed welfare and you agreed and even counseled someone else that they ought to keep in mind that discrimination against blacks was indicated because they were disproportionately ON WELFARE. Disproportionate on a percentage to population basis. You agree when the statistics supports your need for support of the Living Consequences but when THE VERY SAME STATISTIC is used to support the argument that reparations/compensations/efforts have been made in the form of disproportionate welfare support, you switch arguments and go with total dollar spent.

    Now, in a vacuum, the total dollar spent per race as defining "disproportionate" is faulty. Has to be done on percentage to population relationship. But when you switch back and forth depending on the issue being addressed you truly have left the tracks.

    Now (again?) if you are doing this consciously, you are a brigand of the worst order. I don't believe you are===unless you refuse to admit thats what you have done, see it, and stop doing it. Your very own Chris Matthews moment. Are you up to it?

    Hah, hah. Take the issue on from memory. If we both have to go websurfing to find the prior discussion supporting my accusation, well, that won't be fun, but it might be worthwhile.

    AND that is why James, I have told you likewise you are tricky. Once before you said you have a plan and I asked where was it and you responded it wasn't really a plan, I was being too concrete. And I tell you its the same with "examples." You don't give examples. Go just above to Chris Matthews. We don't need/haven't requested examples of the fact that people don't know their history, we need ((Rick asks what you are going to do at the end of his post too, so its just not me hounding you)) examples of what you want people to do.

    From your example, I would agree that once Chris Matthews became aware of the history, he might agree not just the South should pay reparations. So I spy, and maybe you said it or strongly implied it before, that any plan of compensation/reparations/recognition/addressing the LC would be on a national basis. I guess even Hawaii and Alaska should pay because they benefitted as well? Poor Old Queen "c'monIwannaleiyah" who lost her "Kingdom" should also pay for the suffering of blacks or are indigenous peoples exempt due to their own suffering? Just those on reservations, or anyone claiming tribal affiliations.

    All the intricacies of enforcing/allocating whatever might be a formula. Courts might say, you know what?==its easier to suck it up and move on.

    Give an example of what you DO agree with. If its only to educate the less informed, thats great. So much easier to state the limits of your interest. If more==be honest, direct, express and SAY IT!!!!!!


  12. James says:

    Assuming that is in italics, I figured it out from the attached email I sent you regarding spam.

    Well done!

    OK–finally, I think we have a crystal clear example of how “twisty” you are. … you agreed and even counseled someone else that they ought to keep in mind that discrimination against blacks was indicated because they were disproportionately ON WELFARE.

    Bobbo, I've never said that we know blacks are discriminated against because blacks are disproportionately on welfare. We know that blacks are often still discriminated against from a variety of social science research. Blacks are disproportionately on welfare because blacks are disproportionately poor or unemployed, which in turn results from several factors, including centuries of slavery and discrimination and remaining modern-day prejudice.

    when THE VERY SAME STATISTIC is used to support the argument that reparations/compensations/efforts have been made in the form of disproportionate welfare support, you switch arguments and go with total dollar spent.

    I'm certainly not trying to hide either fact. I say again and again on this blog, and wish more people would be aware, that (1) there is racial inequality in this country, which is why we see things like blacks disproportionately on welfare, and (2) blacks are not the primary recipients of welfare.

    I think you need to ask not whether I'm emphasizing one fact or the other at any given time, but whether I'm focusing on the relevant fact each time.

    In this case, I maintain that welfare programs can't amount to reparations if most of the total spending is for people who aren't black. What does it even mean to have reparations if most of the "reparations" are spent on people who aren't among those to be compensated? The fact that welfare may slightly help blacks more than whites isn't relevant, or else any program which does so is somehow "reparations."

    Once before you said you have a plan and I asked where was it and you responded it wasn’t really a plan, I was being too concrete.

    I suspect, Bobbo, that I said that I have no intention of producing a political action plan, concrete or otherwise, to comprehensively address our nation's racial inequality. You may want me to, but I have no intention of doing so.

    My own plan of action is concrete. It simply doesn't do what you want it to do.

    I tell you its the same with “examples.” … We don’t need/haven’t requested examples of the fact that people don’t know their history, we need … examples of what you want people to do.

    I've told you exactly what I want people to do, Bobbo. And you aren't asking me questions about it, or asking for more detail. You're asking me to offer you an action plan in a completely different area. It's fine if you want to do such a thing, but I don't believe in doing so.

    If its only to educate the less informed, thats great. … If more==be honest, direct, express and SAY IT!!!!!!

    It's not just to "educate the less informed." But it's also not more than what I've said, and it's a bit tiring to have you constantly intersperse thoughtful, articulate arguments and objections with the repeated insinuation that I must want more and am merely being coy.


  13. bobbo says:

    blacks are not the primary recipients of welfare.

    Would you agree they benefit disproportionately from the welfare program?

    I have expressly stated you are coy, usually but perhaps not always, with the caution that I could be wrong. We relate to certain words and ideas very differently. Doesn't happen often, but does happen. Perhaps should happen when an expert talks to the barely informed. I apologize.


  14. James says:

    Would you agree they benefit disproportionately from the welfare program?

    Once again, yes. I've said that, and I've just affirmed, in my most recent comment above, that this is based on an essential fact that more Americans should understand; namely, blacks benefit disproportionately because they are disproportionately poor.

    I've simply said that I don't believe this is the relevant issue with your claim that welfare amounts to reparations for slavery.

    Let me give you an imagined example: suppose that Alaskan natives are agitating for reparations, and amount to 0.1% of the population. Suppose further that Alaskan natives amount to 0.2% of people on welfare. This is quite disproportionate, yes?

    Does that mean that welfare is actually reparations for Alaskan natives? Even though the program isn't aimed primarily at Alaskan natives, primarily benefits other people, doesn't do much towards the claimed reparations or any existing harm that Alaskan natives allege today, and isn't even intended to do anything in particular for Alaskan natives or their reparations claims?


  15. bobbo says:

    Well, we don't need your Alaskan example as it is perfectly the same as the black reality right?

    So, let me say this in all honesty: YES–I think a program of general welfare given to all people regardless of race based on their economic situation that disproportionately benefits the blacks is a kind of direct reparations to the blacks for the harm caused generations ago. And quite a good program too–we should add to it with education and better health benefits.

    Now, my reparations position isn't credible until you realize that often times increases/maintenance of welfare programs is attacked by white racists who claim that it should be cut back because it helps blacks to be lazy, the Cadillac Welfare Queen, and so forth. When I hear talk like that, I think "well, perhaps they deserve it then."

    So, depending on how one wishes to parse it, the subject is inextricably intertwined==and we know we can't discuss that kind of issue with any clarity.

    As to your Rick thread, I'm going to pass. I fear I'm reading too much into your desire to change "the culture" of black people. Once again, words/concepts we just don't define the same way.


  16. James says:

    Okay, Bobbo, then it's settled: we simply have radically different ideas about what the word "reparation" means.

    I will simply note that welfare does very, very little to eliminate our society's racial inequity or, put differently, the harm done to black families in previous generations. What progress has been made in recent generations towards closing that gap has been largely due to increasing opportunity, the hard work of individuals, and to programs aimed specifically at redressing such harm.

    white racists who claim that it should be cut back because it helps blacks to be lazy, the Cadillac Welfare Queen, and so forth.

    As long as you understand that this is racist talk, Bobbo, and not the reality. After all, if welfare encourages its recipients to be lazy, then it's creating more lazy whites than blacks.

    I'm just not sure what your argument is for why your position on reparations is "credible." You seem to be simply referring to these racist nuts.

    I fear I’m reading too much into your desire to change “the culture” of black people.

    I'm not out to change anyone's culture, Bobbo, but I've agreed with Rick that cultural values are quite important. We're speaking of culture in terms of values like individualism, hard work, the importance of family, community, and education, and I'm trying to show him that differences in such values aren't behind the racial disparities in this country.


  17. bobbo says:

    James–I'm going to pull a James on you. I personally don't think welfare is reparations–I only think some people could think of it that way if providing reparations by name was the end goal. And actually, I think the distinction I made is really quite subtle and sublime. I think at some stage race based discrimination in BEHAVIOR must end. At this perhaps interim stage, to me it is sublime that an interest to benefit blacks can be recognized in a race neutral program. Seems to me a race goal in achieved in a non racial manner. Who could object??

    Does welfare make people lazy? Sure==some, not all. Anyone's favorite example should be the Author of Henry Potter, writing her drafts while on the public dole. All good wizards everywhere benefited from her temporary stay on welfare. But what of the fourth generation on Welfare with no plans to teach their kiddies anything but staying on welfare? Not all, but some. ((With Clinton's welfare reform, do they even exist anymore? How could they not?))

    And more whites than blacks would be so affected, but not proportionately more which is the relevant definition of the concept.

    "I’m just not sure what your argument is for why your position on reparations is “credible.” Because it is a program that disproportionately benefits blacks. Just because you disagree, or don't have the imagination to see it, doesn't make my philosophical position incredible.

    My very main argument against any kind of direct reparations is that it is just too difficult and contentious to calculate, it most likely wouldn't change the black condition, it would get people looking to the past rather than the future.

    "I’m trying to show him that differences in such values aren’t behind the racial disparities in this country. /// Well of course they are. That is the LC of racial discrimination including slavery. It has destroyed the family so that the kiddies don't believe that those values are the key to success so disproportionately blacks don't work to overcome the hurdles placed there by racists. I just don't describe those values as "cultural" but rather familial which is why many black families, those with mom and dad especially, have been able to overcome all the hurdles. So its not simply being black in America that causes their group underachievement and thats why reparations, or special attention, or whatever becomes so much more difficult than giving 40 acres and a mule or a ticket to Liberia.

    But I'm open to specific ACTION PLANS should anyone come up with one.


  18. James says:

    Who could object??

    I honestly don't follow you here, Bobbo. I realize you're aiming in part for a critique of how you see my style of argumentation, but what are you actually arguing? Reparations "by name"? Welfare surely isn't that. And you can argue that welfare benefits blacks in a race-neutral way, and that this is good, but that doesn't make it reparations, and it doesn't mean that welfare is actually closing the racial gap, either.

    what of the fourth generation on Welfare with no plans to teach their kiddies anything but staying on welfare? Not all, but some.

    Some? Bobbo, do you actually know that there are families that have been on welfare for four generations, and encourage their children to stay on welfare? Or are you just imagining this might be true?

    In any event, I'm not arguing for welfare programs here, and I'm not sure what your point is. Are you suggesting that there's a racial disparity here? That black welfare recipients are more likely to be lazy or linger on welfare than white recipients? If not, what's the issue? That any such effect disproportionately affects blacks because they are more likely to be poor and on welfare? If that's the issue, then I'd say the bigger problem is race-based poverty, not a racial disparity in adverse welfare affects.

    its not simply being black in America that causes their group underachievement

    You assert this, Bobbo, but it depends on your unexamined assumption that black families, if I understand you correctly, are disproportionately buying into bad cultural ("familial") values and failing to overcome race-based hurdles that they should be able to overcome with the proper attitudes.

    In fact, you have no reason to believe that blacks in this country are "underachieving" relative to whites, or that black families should be doing better in overcoming racial inequality on their own, if only they held values more like whites. As far as I can see, in fact, you have no basis for arguing that black families in this country are more lacking than white families in the proper cultural (or "familial") values.


  19. bobbo says:

    James–I'm flashing on a recent thread at Dvorak where the subject was whether or not there were any discrepancies in the Bible. Folks were going back and forth on what language the "true" bible was written in and who wrote the Book of Genesis. The punch line was someone commenting that that was what discussing religion usually came down to, ie: what language did the talking snake use to write Genesis.

    And that's a bit of what we have here given that neither one of us supports reparations. You are right, I know nothing about most subjects and not enough about subjects I actually deal with. As stated, my father was a welfare worker dealing with third generation recipients. In a case load of 60 families, all but 4 were non-white. That being some time ago actually allowing for 5th or 6th generation recipients, I thought I was soft pedaling by only going for 4th generation recipients, but Dad stopped talking about these issues when he died, on the job as a coincidence.

    So, wiping the slate clean, rebooting the system: James Baldwin is right. I don't feel any guilt for race relations in America. My ancestors are from England and Sweden via Canada not arriving in USA until early 1900's. I think even Baldwin would agree I have no guilt even by his lights? So the only remaining issue is my obligations under the Living Consequences. I want to shoulder my responsibilities. What should be my next move?


  20. James says:

    Bobbo,

    That being some time ago actually allowing for 5th or 6th generation recipients, I thought I was soft pedaling by only going for 4th generation recipients

    Are you saying that your father thought he had a lot of 5th or 6th generation welfare recipients? Our welfare programs aren't that old ….

    And what, exactly, is your point in saying so? Do you believe that blacks are more likely to be on welfare for generations, and not because of poverty or the legacy of racial discrimination, but because of the fact of being on welfare? If so, then your father's experience, as valuable as it is in trying to understand what happens with welfare, couldn't alone tell us this.

    I doubt, frankly, that any moral hazard problem in welfare, by which I mean the adverse effects you're describing, is more of an issue for some races than it is for others. I think we would need to know that before proclaiming it as a problem, and if it were true, we would urgently want to understand why.

    I want to shoulder my responsibilities. What should be my next move?

    I have to leave in a few minutes, to give a talk with Katrina Browne at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on this very subject, actually.

    So let me just say that I agree completely that you should feel no guilt, but I do believe it's imperative that you understand the basics of this history, or at least not believe strongly in any myths about it. So, for instance, you should not mention when your ancestors arrived, since knowing the history should show you how little that affects how much this history has impacted your life, or what your responsibilities or next moves should be.

    Beyond learning and talking about this history, I'm simply not interested in telling you what to do. I'm happy to use this blog, in addition to those primary purposes, to also talk about possible next steps that people want to propose or to discuss, and I'm happy to offer my thoughts on these possibilities, as well, and even to report on related outside developments from time to time. But no matter how many times you ask, I'm not going to call for next steps in the areas you're talking about, because I'm not interested in pushing for those kinds of solutions.


  21. bobbo says:

    My father was a Welfare Worker Level 3 Supervisor. He was assigned some of the chronic cases which he followed along with supervising and training others. His case load consisted only of 3rd generation recipients and he was tasked with getting them what they needed to break the chain of welfare. He would just shake his head. In his opinion, most of his case load was made up of the mentally retarded, the mentally imbalanced, and the chronically ill. He said society had to come to grips with the reality that not everyone was able to compete in society–or even maintain themselves especially when there was never enough money/services to get them the basic help they needed. Verbal encouragement and job referrals just wasn't going to do it. Then he would tell me I was going to wind up in the same boat if I didn't study harder. He was a prince of a guy.

    Why did I bring it up? Just the basis for my uniformed opinion that some people on welfare are lazy–if lazy means not willing, or not capable, of working, not everyone makes that telling distinction. My father's special caseload was made up of the not capable. Maybe with an hour of supervision and hour of "work" could be artificially calculated. I've seen figures from time to time of simply taking the welfare budget and dividing it up into the number of recipients without the welfare/governmental overhead. Seems like their benefits would double or triple, but then over time, welfare cheats would predominate. Biggest cheat back when was common law marriage with one or more husbands hanging around sponging off the welfare check and not contributing. Dad thought the husbands should be incorporated into the social safety net but the rules did not allow it. All led to more fractured family structures. Not so much the Living Consequences as much as active mismanagement of today. Course that was all years ago. Time enough for 1-2-3 more generations to come on board but I don't even know "for sure" if the same type of welfare even exists today.

    I think it has sunk in that you don't propose any action, just a sounding board for those who wish to learn more about the issues. I think you are generally sympathetic to blacks who currently find themselves disadvantaged because of the living legacy of slavery and continuing racial discrimination. Me too. I just do think that after extensive study of any issue, that some ideas would form about what ought to be done about it. But thats just me. Sorry I projected that for so long onto you. Its just very much how I see the world. Each contribution to a problem is that much more help. I think confronting discrimination when it is presented to you is one thing all "right minded" people can do. I think I've had 3-4 opportunities to confront people about their bad attitudes. Hopefully, every little bit helps?

    "So, for instance, you should not mention when your ancestors arrived, since knowing the history should show you how little that affects how much this history has impacted your life, or what your responsibilities or next moves should be." I'm not aware of any impact on my life and this statement seems inconsistent with saying I shouldn't feel guilt? Could you explain that–or not. I grew up around the world. As a childr, I had acid thrown in my face because I was an American in Germany. What I know is that groups of people don't get along with other groups of people in every country in the world. In America, a lot of it is whites hating the blacks. In Jamaica, South Africa the other way around. In Japan, the yellow man is not comfortable with the big nosed round eyed milk smelling barbarian.

    What impact of American History should I especially feel? I still feel just sucking it up and getting on with life has a lot going for it regardless of anyone's personal history/predicament and it can be implemented with every new sunrise without the agreement of anyone else. Very self actualizing. Do what you can do and drag society along with you, be happy you have the insight to recognize it.


  22. colleen browne says:

    No living person may be personally responsible for slavery, but if we, as a society, refuse to address the legacy that is still present, then we are responsible for that. I have read and heard too many people distance themselves from the events of the past as if they had no affect on them. History creates our identity as a nation, and our personal history creates our identity. As an American citizen, you assume the responsibility for its past. Complaining that other people take no responsibility for things is rather disingenuous when you are guilty of doing the same thing yourself.

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