Read A Rap on Race by James Baldwin Free Online
Book Title: A Rap on Race|
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Reader ratings: 7.5
The author of the book: James Baldwin
Date of issue: December 22nd 1973
ISBN 13: 9780440211761
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.40 MB
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In August 1970 writer James Baldwin and anthropologist Margaret Mead met for a total of seven and a half hours over a three-day period to talk about "race." They'd never met before. This book, first published in 1971, is a transcript of their conversation.
Like any conversation, this one rambles and sometimes jumps around, so it's best not to come to it expecting the carefully organized progression of distilled insights that one finds in a good essay. Here two extremely intelligent, extremely articulate individuals, one black, one white, one male, one female, are feeling their way toward each other across difficult, shifty terrain fraught with dangers both seen and unseen -- and taking us, the readers, along with them.
Baldwin and Mead each bring a daunting diversity of life experiences to the project, and tremendous courage as well. It's the willingness of both participants to draw generously and bravely on these personal details that makes their journey both enlightening and inspiring to us. Communication about difficult subjects almost invariably breaks down when the parties fall back on grand generalizations. These two are sometimes tempted in that direction, but they always pull themselves back. They want the conversation to continue.
This is not to say that they don't sometimes get impatient and even testy with each other. Since the subject is race, experiences were forced on Baldwin from a very early age that were never forced on Mead. This is how white privilege works: a white person can choose to listen or not where a black person has no choice. Had the subject been sex, the dynamics would have been different. Sex and gender expectations do come up here, but we can only imagine what might have transpired if Baldwin and Mead had come together for a second conversation with sex in the foreground.
When this conversation happened in real time, I was a 19-year-old college student and antiwar activist. Reading A Rap on Race took me back to that time. War was raging in Indochina, Nixon was president, Watergate hadn't happened yet, the watershed year of 1968 still loomed large in the rearview mirror. So much has happened since then, but it was remarkably easy for me to pass between that time and our own, using this book as a bridge.
The journey may be more difficult for readers who have no firsthand memories of that era, but I think it's worth making anyway, not least because as a society we're still struggling to communicate across our culture's several fault lines. In the last 50 pages of the book, Baldwin and Mead grapple with issues of responsibility and atonement -- of the role history plays in the present day. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently brought these issues back to the fore in his landmark 2014 essay on reparations.
The polarizations afflicting the U.S. now have very deep roots, and our collective inability to communicate across them is making them worse. A Rap on Race suggests that we can do better than this, and provides plenty of insight into how it might happen.
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Read information about the authorJames^Baldwin
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first novel, is a partially autobiographical account of his youth. His essay collections Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a large white audience.
From 1948, Baldwin made his home primarily in the south of France, but often returned to the USA to lecture or teach. In 1957, he began spending half of each year in New York City. His novels include Giovanni's Room, about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country, about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community. Eldridge Cleaver, of the Black Panthers, stated the Baldwin's writing displayed an "agonizing, total hatred of blacks." Baldwin's play, Blues for Mister Charlie, was produced in 1964. Going to Meet the Man and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.
On November 30, 1987 Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.
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