Maybe I was God yesterday. Because the gloomy, slightly misty, slippery, and unsettled weather in Atlanta matched my soul perfectly. After the Atlanta Falcons Superbowl 51 upset, my head felt super heavy on my pillow yesterday morning. I had some optimism that I’d shake the feeling as I slept, but nope, I woke up just as murky as I’d fallen asleep.
In a desperate attempt to regain a sense of belonging on the planet, I took myself on a date. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but ya boy was a bit crushed. I set out to replenish the parts of myself that I value the most; My mind, and my ratchery. With that, I booked a ticket to see James Baldwin’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” and went to eat dinner at Captain D’s afterwards (I’ll tell y’all about my Chicken and Fish Dinner some other time- that shit was fie)!
I Am Not Your Negro was so dense, that the entire story was impossible to tell within 90 or so minutes. This documentary positions the lives, and assassinations, of Civil Rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X in an extremely personal, yet omniscient point of view.
The best way I can sum this film up is by reviewing it from two angles, Perspective and Power.
James Baldwin had the unique ability to critique the American social structure from an array of extremely personal, interesting, and conflicting vantage points. He was black, he was a man, he was gay, he lived in Europe for quite some time, and he had a personal relationship with both King and Malcolm X. He had no choice but to look at racism in America from various lenses and he had the ability to slice through to the common core of America’s race problem.
He reveals why he did not identify with Christianity, The Black Panther Party, or The NAACP. All of which are very telling in how we can contribute to social activism as an individual, as opposed to the notion that we need to be connected to a larger social movement to make an impact. Baldwin understood that his role was to tell the story, and tell the story he did. Using his perspective, he reveals how Martin, Medgar, and Malcolm were all more alike than they were different. Vastly different from the narrative that most of us was taught. A narrative that positions them as arch enemies who worked against each other’s progress.
Baldwin had access to the Education and Entertainment communities. His perspective on how Hollywood has played a continued role in shaping our minds to support racism and stereotypes is extremely eye-opening. His impact on influential American thinkers and educational institutions is very important.
In “I Am Not Your Negro,” Baldwin explains that there is no “White,” nor is there “Negro.” He goes on to say that white is a metaphor for power, and that the creation of the negro is the result of the need to enact that power over others based on fear. In short, fear is the fuel that continues to feed the flames of racism in America.
The documentary merges social issues of today with displays of power birthed in the way this country was settled. This is not the film where viewers can hop- in to grab a quick “Woe is me” black in america struggle story. Anyone who views this film, leaves with a mantle of responsibility. The project opens by listing the problems, and closes by listing solutions- which makes it uniquely special. There is no ambiguous “What to do now,” cloud hovering at the end, because Baldwin tells you exactly what to do next. Not only does he tell you how to begin solving the race problem in America, he tells you who should be responsible for what.
My eyes are forever opened, and I hope you have the opportunity to view this film.
If you’ve watched “I Am Not Your Negro,” give your thoughts in the comments section below.
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