Upon his death in 1987, James Baldwin was working on a project entitled Remember This House, an account of his recollections of the lives and deaths of his close friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. His thirty pages of notes for this project were the starting point for the documentary film I Am Not Your Negro.
Using film footage from the civil rights movement in the 1960s, tv interviews, and more recent events, along with narration by Samuel L. Jackson, director Raoul Peck has created a film with a message that resonates long after you leave the theater.
I went to see this film with four other ladies and when we left the theater I noticed the feeling on all of us of a heavy weight. For me this film just drove home the message of my white privilege, There is one scene from the Dick Cavett Show that I thought said it all, it is when philosopher Paul Weiss says Baldwin is making too much of race, Baldwin’s response is still relevant today and one we need to hear, it hit me in the gut and I will not forget. It illustrated perfectly the ignorance and voluntary blindness that keeps us from any real change when we take on the mindset of “let's move on, just get over it”. We have to take a close look at ourselves and as Baldwin says “What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I'm not a nigger, I'm a man, but if you think I'm a nigger, it means you need it.”
This film, at least for me, was a dismal reminder that in some ways we have come so far but in others we’ve barely moved at all.
The film is now out on DVD if you can't get to see it in a theater I highly recommend that you find a way to watch it at home. This should be mandatory viewing, especially for white people.
If you are interested in exploring James Baldwin's writings and learning more about him here are some suggestions on places to start.