This Is U.S.: “To be a Negro in this country…”

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.

James Baldwin from “The Negro in American Culture,” Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205

Two nights ago, a friend shared with me a disturbing but all-too-common story about his two young adult daughters with their mother.

The three women were approached by a man while filling up the car with gas before all going to the station restroom. The man followed them into the station, and they all felt concerned for their safety.

This is a snapshot of what it means to be female in the U.S. in 2016.

Last night, I sat in my living room with my pregnant daughter, my biracial granddaughter, my wife, and my black son-in-law. My daughter was showing my wife videos from the recent gruesome shootings of two black males by police.

My son-in-law told us he saw two people pulled over by police on his drive home, shaking his head and adding, “I don’t want to be pulled over.”

This is a snapshot of what it means to be black in the U.S. in 2016.

White males are about 30-35% of adults in the U.S., yet white males control nearly all the wealth and all the power in this country.

And despite the disturbing power of the videos documenting the institutional executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, this is the image of the U.S.:


Brock Turner’s image captures the world created by the white male power structure of the U.S., the inequity designed and maintained by those white males in the service of white males.

Equity and justice—or rightly inequity and injustice—these exist as those in power choose. The powerless—children, women, people of color—did not bring this world about and do not maintain it.

Turner represents that the U.S. is two worlds: one criminal justice system for white males and another criminal justice system for everyone else.

This image of Turner—All-American athlete and all-around good guy—stands in stark contrast to the immediate efforts by the media and whitesplainers to justify the shootings of Sterling and Castile, the immediate framing of these men as inherently criminals who deserved street executions.

The American Dream is a whitesplainer’s myth; as George Carlin quipped: “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

“This is why those pious calls to ‘respect the law,'” argued James Baldwin in “A Report from Occupied Territory,” “always to be heard from prominent citizens each time the ghetto explodes, are so obscene. The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.”

And then, in Baldwin’s “No Name in the Street,” he points a finger at the entrenched American problem with race:

The truth is that the country does not know what to do with its black population now that the blacks are no longer a source of wealth, are no longer to be bought and sold and bred, like cattle; and they especially do not know what to do with young black men, who pose as devastating a threat to the economy as they do to the morals of young white cheerleaders. It is not at all accidental that the jails and the army and the needle claim so many, but there are still too many prancing around for the public comfort. Americans, of course, will deny, with horror, that they are dreaming of anything like “the final solution”—those Americans, that is, who are likely to be asked: what goes on in the vast, private hinterland of the American heart can only be guessed at, by observing the way the country goes these days. (pp. 432-433)

Before the U.S. is “the way the country goes these days.”

Let us not ignore that “the way” is exactly what white males who control the wealth and power want. If it were not, then things would be otherwise.

This is U.S.

See Also

“the world” (poem)

Four Poems: For Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin

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