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James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

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    [music]
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    Narrator: The following program is from NET:
    The National Educational Television Network.
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    Debate, James Baldwin Vs William Buckley.
    Subject, "Has the American Dream Been
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    Achieved at the Expense of the American
    Negro?"
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    This debate was held recently at the
    Cambridge Union, Cambridge University
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    England, and was recorded for use by NET.
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    Norman St. John Stevas, M.P:
    Well, here we are in the debating hall
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    of the Cambridge Union, hundreds of
    undergraduates and myself waiting for what
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    could prove one of the most exciting
    debates in the whole 150 years of the
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    union history.
    It really... I don't think I have ever
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    seen the union so well attended.
    There are undergraduates everywhere.
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    They're on the benches and on the floor
    and on the galleries. And there are a lot
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    more outside clambering to get in.
    Well, the motion that has drawn this huge
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    crowd tonight is this: That the American
    Dream has been achieved at the expense
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    of the American negro. The debate will
    open with two undergraduates speakers,
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    one from each side, and then we shall
    have the first distinguished guest,
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    Mr James Baldwin. The well-known American
    novelist who has achieved a world wide
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    fame with his novel "Another Country."
    Then opposing the motion will be
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    Mr. William Buckley, also an American.
    Very well-known as a conservative in the
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    United States. I must stress a conservative
    in the American sense. Author of a book
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    called "Up from Liberalism" and editor of
    the National Review. One of the earliest
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    reporters of Senator Goldwater.
    Well, this is the setting of the debate,
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    and at any moment now, the president
    will be leading in his officers and his
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    distinguished guests. He will take his
    chair, and the debate will begin.
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    [applause]
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    The motion before the house tonight is
    "The American Dream at the Expense of
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    the American Negro." The proposer,
    Mr. David Haycock of Pembroke College,
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    and our opposer, Mr. Jeremy Burford of
    Emmanuel College. Mr. James Baldwin
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    will speak third. Mr William Buckley Jr.
    will speak fourth. Mr. Heycock has the
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    ear of the house.
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    [applause]
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    David Heycock: Mr. President, sir, it is
    the custom of the house for the first
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    speaker in any debate to extend a
    formal welcome to any visitors to the
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    house. I can honestly say however it is
    a very great honor to be able to welcome
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    to the house this evening Mr. William
    Buckley and Mr. James Baldwin.
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    Mr. William Buckley has the reputation
    of possibly being the most articulate
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    conservative in the United States of
    America. He was a graduate of Yale,
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    and he first gained a reputation for
    himself by publishing a book called
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    "God and Man at Yale."
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    [laughter]
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    Since then, he has devoted himself to
    the secular, and this has included
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    Norman Mailer, Kenneth Tynan, Mary McCarthy,
    and Fidel Castro, none of whom have come
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    out of their confrontations unscathed.
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    [laughter]
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    At present, his principle occupation is
    editing a right-wing newspaper in the
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    United States entitled
    "The National Review."
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    Mr. James Baldwin is hardly in need of
    introduction. His reputation both as a
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    novelist and as an advocate of civil rights
    is international. His third novel
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    "Another Country" has been published as
    a paperback in England today. Mr. Baldwin
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    and Mr. Buckley are both very welcome to
    the house this evening.
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    [applause]
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    Imagine Mr. President a society which
    above all values freedom and equality.
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    A society in which artificial barriers to
    fulfillment and achievement are unheard
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    of. A society in which a man may begin his
    life as a rail splitter and end it as president.
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    A society in which all men are free in
    every sense of the word. Free to live
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    where they choose. Free to work where they
    choose. Equal in the eyes of the law and
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    every public authority. And equal in the eyes
    of their fellows. A society in fact which
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    intollerence and prejudice are meaningless
    terms. Imagine; however, Mr. President, a
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    condition of this utopia has been a
    persistent and quite deliberate
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    exploitation of one ninth of its
    inhabitants. That one man in nine has
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    been denied his rights, which the rest
    of that society takes for granted.
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    That one man in nine does not have
    a chance for fulfillment or realization
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    of his innate potentiality. That one
    man in nine cannot promise his
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    children a secure future and unlimited
    opportunities. Imagine this Mr. President
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    and you have, what is in my opinion,
    the bitter reality of the American Dream.
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    A few weeks ago Martin Luther King had
    to hold a non-violent demonstration in
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    Selma, Alabama in his drive to register
    negro voters. By the end of the week
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    of his demonstrations, he was able to
    write quite accurately in a national
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    fundraising letter from Selma, Alabama
    jail "There are more negros in prison
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    with me then there are on the voting
    roles." When King wrote that letter,
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    three-hundred and thirty-five out of
    thirty-two-thousand-seven-hundred
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    negros in Dallas had the vote.
    One percent of the Dallas population.
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    After a mass march to the court house,
    two-hundred-and-thirty-seven negros,
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    King among them, were arrested.
    The following day, four-hundred-and
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    seventy children, who had deserted
    their classrooms to protest against
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    King's arrest, were charged with juvenile
    delinquency.
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    [laughter]
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    Thirty-six adults on the same day were
    charged with contempt of court for
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    picketing the court house while
    state circuit court was in session.
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    On the following day, a hundred-and
    eleven people were arrested on the
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    same charge despite their claim that
    they merely wanted to see the voting
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    registrar. Four-hundred students were
    arrested and taken to the armory,
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    where many of them spent the night
    on a cold cement floor. The following
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    date the demonstrations spread to
    Marion, Alabama. In Marion, negros
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    outnumbered the whites by eleven-and
    a-half thousand to six-thousand people
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    and yet, only three hundred are registered
    to vote. Negros in Marion were anxious
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    to test the public accommodations section
    of the civil rights law. They entered a
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    drug store and there they were served
    with Coca Cola laced with salt and were
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    told that hamburgers had risen to five
    dollars each. After the arrest of fifteen
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    negros for protesting against this
    treatment, seven hundred negros
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    boycotted their classes the next day
    and marched in orderly fashion to the
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    jail. There they sang civil rights songs
    until they were warned by a state trooper
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    that they would be arrested if they sung
    one more song. Of course, they sung
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    another song, and of course, all seven
    hundred were arrested. American
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    society has felt fit to use negro labor.
    It has felt fit to use the blood of the
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    negro in two world wars. It has felt fit to
    listen to its music. It has felt fit to laught
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    at its jokes, and yet, as far as I am
    concerned, it has never felt fit to
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    give the American negro a fair deal;
    and for this reason Mr. President,
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    I will beg leave to propose the motion
    that the American dream is at the expense
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    of the American negro.
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    [applause]
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    Unnamed Individual: I now call Mr. Jeremy Burford of Emmanuel College to oppose the motion.
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    [applause]
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    Narrator: Now, we have Mr. Jeremy
    Burford of Emmanuel College who
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    is the first undergraduate opposing
    the motion.
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    Jeremy Burford: James Baldwin is well
    known as one of the most vivid and
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    articulate writers about the negro
    problem in American. Mr. Baldwin
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    had a difficult childhood, and he
    has personally himself suffered
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    discrimination and ill treatment
    of a sort in American, and I would
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    like to say at this time that it is
    not the purpose of this side of
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    the house to condone that in any
    way at all. It is not our purpose to
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    oppose civil rights. It is our purpose
    to oppose this motion. [audience: here here]
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    [laughter]
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    Thank you, sir. Come and collect
    your fee afterwards.
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    [laughter and applause]
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    This side of the house denies that the
    American dream has in any way been
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    helped by this undoubted inequality
    and suffering of the negro.
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    We maintain in fact that this has hindered
    the American Dream, and if there had
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    been equality, if there had been true
    freedom of opportunity, the American
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    dream would be very much more advance
    then it is now. If the American dream has
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    made any progress, and I think it has,
    it has been made in spite of the suffering
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    and inequality of the American negro and
    not because of it. Now it is also implied
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    in this motion that the American Dream is
    encouraging and worsening the suffering
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    of the American negro. This is emphatically
    not the case. The American Dream,
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    the American economic prosperity and
    respect for civil liberties has been the
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    main factor in bringing about the undoubted
    improvement in race relations in America
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    in the last twenty years; and Professor
    Arnold Rose was the author of the "Negro
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    in America" which is perhaps the definitive
    word on the subject, who is also a
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    contributor of what is called "The Freedom
    Pamphlet". So I should imagine if he has
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    any bias at all, it is in favor of the negro.
    He's said that this improvement in race
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    relations will be seen in years to come as
    remarkably quick, and he has put it down
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    to three main causes: increased
    industrialization and technical advance,
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    the increased social mobility of the
    American people, and the economic
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    prosperity. And I would put it to this
    house that that industrialization and
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    economic prosperity are two of the main
    ingredients of the American dream and
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    at the same time--again, I do not want to
    say that the negro in America is treated
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    fairly--but at the same time, the average
    per capita income of negros in America
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    is exactly the same as the average per
    capita income of people in Great Britain.
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    Now, I found that absolutely amazing.
    I understand that some of you do as well;
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    so, I've got the reference here from the
    United States News and World Report
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    of July the 22nd 1963, in which it points
    out... [Man in the audience raises hand]
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    This will have to be the last interruption
    I take because time is running short.
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    Audience member: Mr. Preston. Now a
    point of information, is this being a talking
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    of real income or money income?
    [Audience: here here, applause.]
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    I am talking of money income. I would not
    wish to disguise that. I would also say that
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    in terms of this, there are only five
    countries in the world where the income
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    is higher than that of the American negro,
    and they do not include countries like
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    West Germany and France and Japan.
    Now, there are in America thirty-five
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    negro millionaires. There are six thousand
    doctors and so on. Now I do not by saying
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    this wish to emphasize that the negro is
    fairly treated. I merely wish to try and
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    convey a more realistic and objective
    account of the situation of the negro.
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    I agree that there are negros who are
    very poor indeed, such as the old
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    gentlemen in the south who was talking
    about some of his wealthier brethren
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    saying "Yes. Some of these rich negros
    they put on airs like the bottom
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    figure of a fetch, and the bigger they try
    to be the smaller they really are."
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    I would repeat Mr. President in the
    last minute that I have that this debate
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    is not whether civil rights should be
    extended to American negros or not;
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    if it were it would be a very easy
    motion to argue for and a very easy
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    motion to vote for. The debate tonight
    concerns whether the American Dream
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    is at the expense of the American negro.
    That is where the American negro has paid
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    for the American dream with a suffering
    or whether the American dream has
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    furthered the negro inequality, and
    I would deny those things to precept.
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    I would say that negro inequality has
    hindered the American dream, and
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    I would say that the American dream
    has been very important in the in
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    furthering civil rights and in furthering
    freedom for the American negro.
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    Mr. President, sir, I beg to oppose
    the motion.
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    [applause]
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    Unnamed Individual: It is now with very
    great pleasure and a very great sense of
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    honor that I call Mr. James Baldwin
    to speak third to this motion.
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    [applause]
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    Narrator: Now we have Mr. James Baldwin,
    the star of the evening, who has been
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    sitting, listening attentively and getting
    a wonderful reception here in the
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    Cambridge Union. From members, enthusiasm
    from all sides of the house for Mr. Baldwin,
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    who has been listening to the arguments.
    Now will bring the voice of actual
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    experience to the debate.
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    James Baldwin: Good evening.
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    [laughter]
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    I find myself, not for the first time, in
    the position of a kind of Jeremiah.
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    For example, I don’t disagree with
    Mr. Burford that the inequality
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    suffered by the American Negro
    population of the United States has hindered
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    the American dream. Indeed, it has.
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    I quarrell with some other things he
    has to say. The other, deeper, element of
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    a certain awkwardness I feel has to do
    with one’s point of view.
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    I have to put it that way – one’s sense,
    one’s system of reality.
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    It would seem to me the proposition
    before the House, and I would put it
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    that way, is the American Dream at the
    expense of the American Negro,
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    or the American Dream is at
    the expense of the American Negro.
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    Is the question hideously loaded,
    and then one’s response to that question
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    – one’s reaction to that question –
    has to depend on effect and, in effect,
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    where you find yourself in the world,
    what your sense of reality is,
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    what your system of reality is.
    That is, it depends on assumptions which
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    we hold so deeply so as to
    be scarcely aware of them.
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    Are white South African or
    Mississippi sharecropper, or
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    Mississippi sheriff, or a Frenchman
    driven out of Algeria, all have, at bottom,
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    a system of reality which compels
    them to, for example, in the case of the
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    French exile from Algeria, to offend
    French reasons from having ruled Algeria.
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    The Mississippi or Alabama sheriff,
    who really does believe, when he’s facing
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    a Negro boy or girl, that this woman,
    this man, this child must be insane to
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    attack the system to which he owes
    his entire identity. Of course, to
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    such a person, the proposition which
    we are trying to discuss here tonight
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    does not exist. And on the other hand,
    I, have to speak as one of the people
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    who’ve been most attacked by what
    we now must here call the Western or
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    European system of reality. What white
    people in the world, what we call
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    white supremacy – I hate to say it here
    – comes from Europe.
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    That's how it got to America. Beneath
    then, whatever one’s reaction to this
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    proposition is, has to be the question
    of whether or not civilizations can
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    be considered, as such, equal, or
    whether one’s civilization has the right
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    to overtake and subjugate, and, in fact,
    to destroy another.
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    Now, what happens when that happens.
    Leaving aside all the physical facts that
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    one can quote. Leaving aside, rape
    or murder. Leaving aside the bloody
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    catalog of oppression, which we
    are in one way too familiar with already,
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    what this does to the subjugated,
    the most private, the most serious
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    thing this does to the subjugated,
    is to destroy his sense of reality.
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    It destroys, for example, his father’s
    authority over him. His father can no
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    longer tell him anything, because
    the past has disappeared, and his
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    father has no power in the world.
    This means, in the case of an
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    American Negro, born in that
    glittering republic, and the moment you
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    are born, since you don’t
    know any better,
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    every stick and stone and
    every face is white.
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    And since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose that you
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    are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, or 6, or 7, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not, in its whole system of reality, evovled any place for you. The disaffection, the demoralization, and the gap between one person and another only on the basis of the color of their skin, begins there and accelerates – accelerates throughout a whole lifetime – to the present when you realize you’re thirty and are having a terrible time managing to trust your countrymen. By the time you are thirty, you have been through a certain kind of mill. And the most serious effect of the mill you’ve been through is, again, not the catalog of disaster, the policemen, the taxi drivers, the waiters, the landlady, the landlord, the banks, the insurance companies, the millions of details, twenty four hours of every day, which spell out to you that you are a worthless human being. It is not that. It’s by that time that you’ve begun to see it happening, in your daughter or your son, or your niece or your nephew.
Title:
James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)
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Video Language:
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Duration:
58:58

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