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James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

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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
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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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    President: The motion before the house
    tonight is "The American Dream at the
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    Expense of 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 F. Buckley Jr.
    will speak fourth. Mr. Heycock has the
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    ear of the house.
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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 entitled
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    "God and Man at Yale."
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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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    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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    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
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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
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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 his music. It has felt fit to laugh
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    at his 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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    President: I now call Mr. Jeremy Burford of Emmanuel College to oppose the motion.
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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 America. 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 America, 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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    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
    work 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.
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    I understand that some of you do as well;
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    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 interrupts]
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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. President. 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 indeed 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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    President: 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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    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
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    Mr. Baldwin, 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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    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
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    discover that the flag to which
    you have pledged allegiance, along with
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    everybody else, has not pledged
    allegiance to you. It comes as a
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    great shock to discover that Gary
    Cooper killing off the Indians, when you
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    were rooting for Gary Cooper,
    that the Indians were you. It comes as a
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    great shock to discover that the
    country which is your birthplace and to
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    which you owe your life and your identity,
    has not, in its whole system of reality,
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    evovled any place for you. The
    disaffection, the demoralization, and the
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    gap between one person and another
    only on the basis of the color of their
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    skin, begins there and accelerates
    – accelerates throughout a whole lifetime
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    – to the present when you realize
    you’re thirty and are having a terrible
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    time managing to trust your
    countrymen. By the time you are thirty,
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    you have been through a certain
    kind of mill. And the most serious effect
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    of the mill you’ve been through is,
    again, not the catalog of disaster,
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    the policemen, the taxi drivers,
    the waiters, the landlady, the landlord,
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    the banks, the insurance companies,
    the millions of details, twenty four
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    hours of every day, which spell
    out to you that you are a worthless
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    human being. It is not that. It’s by
    that time that you’ve begun to see
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    it happening, in your daughter or your
    son, or your niece or your nephew.
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    You are thirty by now and nothing you
    have done has helped to
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    escape the trap. But what is worse
    than that, is that nothing you
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    have done, and as far as you can tell,
    nothing you can do, will save your
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    son or your daughter from meeting
    the same disaster and not
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    impossibly coming to the same
    end. Now, we’re speaking about
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    expense. I suppose there are
    several ways to address oneself,
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    to some attempt to find what that
    word means here. Let me put it
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    this way, that from a very literal
    point of view, the harbors and the
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    ports, and the railroads of the
    country–the economy,
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    especially of the Southern
    states–could not conceivably be
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    what it has become, if they had
    not had, and do not still have,
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    indeed for so long, for many generations,
    cheap labor. I am stating very
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    seriously, and this is not an
    overstatement: I picked the cotton,
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    I carried it to the market,
    and I built the railroads under
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    someone else’s whip for nothing.
    For nothing.
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    The Southern oligarchy, which has
    still today so very much power in
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    Washington, and therefore some
    power in the world, was created
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    by my labor and my sweat, and the
    violation of my women and the murder of
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    my children. This, in the land of
    the free, and the home of the brave.
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    And no one can challenge that statement.
    It is a matter of historical record.
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    In another way, this dream, and we’ll
    get to the dream in a moment,
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    is at the expense of the American
    Negro. You watched this in the Deep South
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    in great relief. But not only in the
    Deep South. In the Deep South, you
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    are dealing with a sheriff or a
    landlord, or a landlady or the
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    girl of the Western Union desk, and
    she doesn’t know quite who she’s
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    dealing with, by which I mean,
    that if you’re not a part of the town,
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    and if you are a Nothern Nigger,
    it shows in millions of ways.
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    So she simply knows that it’s an
    unknown quantity, and she wants to
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    have nothing to do with it because
    she won’t talk to you, you have
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    to wait for a while to get your telegram.
    OK, we all know this. We’ve all
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    been through it and, by the time you
    get to be a man, it’s very easy to deal with.
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    But what is happening in the poor
    woman, the poor man’s mind is
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    this: they’ve been raised to believe,
    and by now they helplessly believe,
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    that no matter how terrible their lives
    may be, and their lives have been
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    quite terrible, and no matter how
    far they fall, no matter what disaster
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    overtakes them, they have one
    enormous knowledge in
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    consolation, which is like a heavenly
    revelation: at least, they are not Black.
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    Now, I suggest that of all the terrible
    things that can happen to a
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    human being, that is one of the worst.
    I suggest that what has happened
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    to white Southerners is in some ways,
    after all, much worse than
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    what has happened to Negroes
    there because Sheriff Clark in
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    Selma, Alabama, cannot be considered
    – you know, no one can be
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    dismissed as a total monster.
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    I’m sure he loves his wife, his children.
    I’m sure, you know, he likes to
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    get drunk. You know, after all, one’s got
    to assume he is visibly a man like me.
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    But he doesn’t know what drives
    him to use the club, to menace with the
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    gun and to use the cattle prod.
    Something awful must have happened to
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    a human being to be able to put
    a cattle prod against a
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    woman’s breasts, for example.
    What happens to the woman is ghastly.
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    What happens to the man who
    does it is in some ways much, much worse.
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    This is being done, after all, not a hundred
    years ago, but in 1965, in a country
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    which is blessed with what we call
    prosperity, a word we won’t examine
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    too closely; with a certain kind of
    social coherence, which calls itself a
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    civilized nation, and which espouses
    the notion of the freedom of the
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    world. And it is perfectly true from
    the point of view now
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    simply of an American Negro. Any American
    Negro watching this, no matter
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    where he is, from the vantage point of
    Harlem, which is another terrible
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    place, has to say to himself, in spite of
    what the government says
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    – the government says we can’t do
    anything about it – but if those were
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    white people being murdered in
    Mississippi work farms, being carried
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    off to jail, if those were white children
    running up and down the streets,
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    the government would find some
    way of doing something about it.
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    We have a civil rights bill now
    where an amendment, the
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    fifteenth amendment, nearly a hundred
    years ago – I hate to sound again
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    like an Old Testament prophet –
    but if the amendment was not
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    honored then, I would have any
    reason to believe in the civil rights
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    bill will be honored now.
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    And after all one’s been there, since
    before, you know, a lot of other
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    people got there. If one has got to
    prove one’s title to the land, isn’t
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    four hundred years enough? Four
    hundred years? At least three wars?
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    The American soil is full of the
    corpses of my ancestors.
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    Why is my freedom or my citizenship,
    or my right to live there, how
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    is it conceivably a question now?
    And I suggest further, and in the
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    same way, the moral life of Alabama
    sheriffs and poor Alabama ladies
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    – white ladies – their moral lives
    have been destroyed by the
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    plague called color, that the American
    sense of reality has been corrupted by it.
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    At the risk of sounding excessive,
    what I always felt, when I finally
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    left the country, and found myself abroad,
    in other places, and watched
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    the Americans abroad – and these are
    my countrymen – and I do
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    care about them, and even if I didn’t,
    there is something between us.
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    We have the same shorthand, I know,
    if I look at a boy or a girl from Tennessee,
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    where they came from in Tennessee
    and what that means.
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    No Englishman knows that.
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    It seemed to me when I watched
    Americans in Europe what they
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    didn’t know about Europeans was
    what they didn’t know about me.
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    They weren’t trying, for example, to be
    nasty to the French girl, or
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    rude to the French waiter. They
    didn’t know they hurt their feelings.
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    They didn’t have any sense this
    particular woman, this particular man,
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    though they spoke another language
    and had different manners
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    and ways, was a human being. And
    they walked over them, the same kind
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    of bland ignorance, condescension,
    charming and cheerful with which
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    they’ve always pat me on the head
    and called me Shine and were upset
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    when I was upset. What is relevant
    about this is that whereas forty years ago
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    when I was born, the question of having
    to deal with what is unspoken
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    by the subjugated, what is never said
    to the master, of ever
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    having to deal with this reality
    was a very remote possibility.
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    It was in no one’s mind. When I was growing up, I was taught in
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    American history books, that Africa had no history, and neither did I.
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    That I was a savage about whom the less said, the better, who had been
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    saved by Europe and brought to America. And, of course, I believed it.
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    I didn’t have much choice.
    Those were the only books there were.
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    Everyone else seemed to agree.
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    If you walk out of Harlem, ride out
    of Harlem, downtown, the world
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    agrees what you see is much bigger,
    cleaner, whiter, richer, safer
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    than where you are. They collect
    the garbage. People obviously can
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    pay their life insurance. Their children
    look happy, safe. You’re not.
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    And you go back home, and it would
    seem that, of course, that it’s an act
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    of God that this is true! That you
    belong where white people have put you.
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    It is only since the Second World War
    that there’s been a
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    counter-image in the world. And that
    image did not come about through
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    any legislation or part of any
    American government, but through
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    the fact that Africa was suddenly
    on the stage of the world, and Africans
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    had to be dealt with in a way they’d
    never been dealt with before.
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    This gave an American Negro for
    the first time a sense of himself
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    beyond the savage or a clown. It has
    created and will create a great
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    many conundrums. One of the great
    things that the white world
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    does not know, but I think I do know,
    is that Black people are just like
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    everybody else. One has used the
    myth of Negro and the myth of color
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    to pretend and to assume that you
    were dealing with, essentially,
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    with something exotic, bizarre,
    and practically, according to human laws,
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    unknown. Alas, it is not true.
    We’re also mercenaries,
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    dictators, murderers, liars.
    We are human too.
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    What is crucial here is that unless
    we can manage to accept, establish
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    some kind of dialog between those
    people whom I pretend have paid
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    for the American dream and those
    other people who have not achieved it,
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    we will be in terrible trouble. I want
    to say, at the end, the last, is that is
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    that is what concerns me most. We are
    sitting in this room, and we are all,
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    at least I’d like to think we are,
    relatively civilized, and we can talk to
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    each other at least on certain levels
    so that we could walk out of here
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    assuming that the measure of our
    enlightenment, or at least, our
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    politeness, has some effect on
    the world. It may not.
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    I remember, for example, when the
    ex Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy,
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    said that it was conceivable that in
    forty years, in America, we might have
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    a Negro president. That sounded
    like a very emancipated statement,
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    I suppose, to white people. They were
    not in Harlem when this statement
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    was first heard. And they’re not here,
    and possibly will never hear the laughter
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    and the bitterness, and the scorn
    with which this statement was greeted.
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    From the point of view of the man
    in the Harlem barber shop, Bobby Kennedy
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    only got here yesterday, and he’s
    already on his way to the presidency.
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    We’ve been here for four hundred
    years and now he tells us that maybe
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    in forty years, if you’re good,
    we may let you become president.
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    What is dangerous here is the turning
    away from – the turning away from
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    – anything any white American says.
    The reason for the political hesitation,
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    in spite of the Johnson landslide is
    that one has been betrayed by American
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    politicians for so long. And I am a
    grown man and perhaps I can be
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    reasoned with. I certainly hope I can be.
    But I don’t know, and neither does
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    Martin Luther King, none of us know
    how to deal with those other people
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    whom the white world has so long
    ignored, who don’t believe anything
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    the white world says and don’t entirely
    believe anything I or Martin is saying.
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    And one can’t blame them. You watch
    what has happened to
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    them in less than twenty years.
    It seems to me that the City of New York,
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    for example – this is my last point –
    It’s had Negroes in it for a very long time.
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    If the city of New York were able, as it
    has indeed been able, in the last fifteen
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    years to reconstruct itself, tear down
    buildings and raise great new ones,
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    downtown and for money, and has
    done nothing whatever except build
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    housing projects in the ghetto for the
    Negroes. And of course, Negroes hate it.
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    Presently the property does indeed
    deteriorate because the children
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    cannot bear it. They want to get out
    of the ghetto. If the American pretensions
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    were based on more solid, a more
    honest assessment of life and of
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    themselves, it would not mean for Negroes
    when someone says “Urban Renewal”
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    that Negroes can simply are going
    to be thrown out into the streets.
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    This is just what it does mean now. This is
    not an act of God. We’re dealing with
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    a society made and ruled by men.
    Had the American Negro had not
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    been present in America, I am convinced
    the history of the American labor
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    movement would be much
    more edifying than it is.
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    It is a terrible thing for an entire
    people to surrender to the notion
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    that one-ninth of its population is beneath
    them. And until that moment,
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    until the moment comes when we, the
    Americans, we, the American people,
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    are able to accept the fact, that I have
    to accept, for example, that my ancestors
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    are both white and Black. That on that
    continent we are trying to forge a new
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    identity for which we need each other
    and that I am not a ward of America.
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    I am not an object of missionary charity. I am
    one of the people who built the
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    country–until this moment there is scarcely
    any hope for the American dream,
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    because the people who are denied
    participation in it, by their very presence,
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    will wreck it. And if that happens it is a
    very grave moment for the West.
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    Thank you.
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    [standing ovation, loud applause]
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    Narrator: Members. Moving moment now.
    The whole of the union standing and
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    applauding this magnificent speech of
    James Baldwin. Never seen this happen
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    before in the union in all the years
    that I have known it. Baldwin smiling,
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    obviously delighted by his reception,
    tremendously moved by it.
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    Unnamed person: I am now very grateful
    and very pleased to be able to call a
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    Mr. William F Buckley Jr. to speak forth
    to this motion.
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    Narrator: Now we have Mr. William Buckley,
    who will need all his skill to establish a
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    a ascendancy over his audience, which
    has clearly been deeply moved by
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    the eloquence and personal experience
    of the preceding speaker.
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    William Buckley: Thank you Mr. President,
    Baldwin, Heycock, Burford, gentlemen.
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    It seems to me that of all the indictments
    Mr. Baldwin has made of America
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    here tonight and in his copious literature
    of protest, the one that is of most
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    striking involves in effect the refusal
    of the American community to treat
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    him other than as a negro. The
    American community has refused to
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    do this. The American community
    almost everywhere he goes treats
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    him with the kind of unction, of
    a kind of satisfaction at posturing
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    carefully for his flagellation of
    our civilization. That indeed our
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    white populi commands the contempt
    which he so eloquently shows upon us.
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    It is impossible in my judgment to deal
    with the indictment of Mr. Baldwin
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    unless one is prepared to deal with him as
    a white man. Unless one is prepared to
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    say to him the fact that your skin is
    black is utterly irrelevant to the
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    arguments that you raised or the
    fact that you sit here as is your
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    rhetorical devise and lay the entire
    waves of the negro ordeal on your
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    own shoulders is irrelevant to the
    argument we are here to discuss.
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    The (?) of Mr. Baldwin's charges against
    America are not so much that are
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    civilization has failed him or/and his
    people. That our ideals are
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    insufficient or that we have no
    ideals. That our ideals are rather
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    some sort of a superficial coating
    of which we come up with at any
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    given moment in order to justify
    our whatever commercial and
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    agnoxious experiment we are engaged
    in. Of us, Mr. Baldwin can write his
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    book The Fire Next Time in which
    he threatens American. He didn't
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    in writing that book speak with a
    British accent that he used
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    exclusively tonight, in which he
    threatened American with a
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    necessity for us to jettison...
    for us to jettison our entire
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    civilization, the only thing that the
    white man has that the negro shouldn't
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    want he said is power.
    [Narrator speaking over him: inaudible]
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    And he is treated from coast to coast of
    the United States with a kind of unctuous
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    ... that goes beyond anything that was
    ever expected from some of the most
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    servile negro creature by a southern
    family. I propose to pay him the honor
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    this night of saying to him, Mr. Baldwin,
    I am going to speak to you without any
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    reference whatever to those surrounding
    protections which you are used to
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    in virtue of the fact that you are a negro.
    Here we need to ask the question,
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    what in fact shall we do about it,
    Mr. President? What shall we in America
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    try to do for instance to eliminate
    those psychic humiliations which I join
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    Mr. Baldwin in believing are the very
    worst aspects of this discrimination?
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    You found it a source of considerable
    merth to laugh away these statistics
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    of my colleague, Mr. Burford. I don't
    think they are insignificant. They
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    certainly are not insignificant in a world
    that attaches a considerable importance
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    to material progress. It is in fact the case
    that seven-tenths of the white income
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    in the United States is equal to the
    income that is made by the average
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    negro. I don't think this is an irrelevant
    statistic, ladies and gentleman. It takes
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    the capitalization of fifteen, sixteen,
    seventeen thousand dollars in the
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    United States. This is capitalization that
    was not created exclusively as a result
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    of negro prevail. My great grand parents
    worked too, presumably yours worked
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    also. I don't know of anything that has
    ever been created without the expense
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    of something. All of you who hope for a
    diploma here are going to do that at the
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    expense of a considerable amount of
    effort. And I would thank you to please
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    not to deny the fact that a considerable
    amount of effort went into the production
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    of a system which grants a greater degree
    of material well being to the American negro
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    other than that in which is enjoyed by 95%
    of the other peoples' of the human race.
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    But even so, to the extent of your withering
    laughter suggested here that you found this
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    a contemptible observation. I agree.
    I don't think it matters that there are
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    thirty-five millionaires among the negro
    community if there were thirty-five, if
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    there were twenty million millionaires
    among the negro community of the
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    United States, I would still agree with
    you that we have a dastardly situation.
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    But I am asking you not to make politics
    as the crow flies, to use the fleeted
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    phrase of Professor Oakshock. Rather
    consider what in fact is that we Americans
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    ought to do? What are your instructions
    that I am to take back to the United States
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    my friend? I want to know what it is
    that we should do and especially,
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    I want to know whether it is time in fact
    to abandon the American Dream as it has
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    been defined by Mr. Heycock and
    Mr. Burford or what in fact is it we
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    ought to do; for instance, to avoid
    two humiliations mentioned by Mr. Baldwin
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    as being a part of his own experience
    during his lifetime. At the age of twelve,
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    you will find on reading his book,
    he trespassed outside the ghetto
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    of Harlem and was taken by the scruff
    of the neck by a policeman on forty-second
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    street, Madison Avenue and said,
    "Here, you nigger, go back to where you belong."
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    Fifteen, twenty years later he goes in and
    asks for a scotch whiskey at the airport
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    at Chicago and is told by the white woman
    that he is obviously under-aged and under
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    the circumstances, cannot be served.
    I know. I know from your faces that
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    you share with me the feeling of
    compassion and the feeling of
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    outraged that this kind of thing should
    have happened. What in fact are we
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    going to do to this policeman and what
    in fact are we going to do to this
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    barman? How are we going to avoid
    the kind of humiliations that are
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    perpetually visited on members of the
    minority race. Obviously, the first
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    element is concern. We've got to
    care that it happens. We've got to
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    do what we can to change the warp
    and woof of moral thought in society
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    in such fashion as to try to make it happen
    less and less. Let me urge this point to you
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    which I can do with authority, my friends.
    The only authority that I can tonight,
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    and that is to tell you that in the
    United States there is a concern for
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    the negro problem. Now if you get
    up to me and say-
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    If you get up to me and say,
    "Well is there now the kind of
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    concern that we students of Cambridge
    would show if the problem were our
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    own?" All I can say is I don't know. It may
    very well be that there has been some
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    sort of a sunburst of moral enlightenment
    that has hit this community so as to make
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    it predictable that if you were the
    governors of the United States,
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    the situation would change overnight.
    I am prepared to grant this as a
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    form of curtesy, Mr. President, but
    meanwhile I am saying to you that the
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    engines of concern in the United States
    are working. The presence of Mr. Baldwin
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    here tonight is in part a reflection of
    that concern. [audience members yells out]
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    You cannot go to a university in the
    United States, a university in the
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    United States presumably also governed
    by the lords spiritual as you are, in which
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    Mr. Baldwin is not the toast of the town.
    You cannot go to a university of the
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    United States in which practically all
    other problems of public policy are
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    preempted by the primary policy of
    concern for the negro. I challenge you
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    to name another civilization any time
    anywhere in the history of the world
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    in which the problems of the minority,
    which have been showing considerable
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    material and political advancement as
    much a subject of dramatic concern as it
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    is in the United States, but let me just say
    finally, ladies and gentlemen, this.
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    There is no instant cure for the race
    problem in America and anybody
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    who tells you there is is a charlatan and
    ultimately a boring man, a boring
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    precisely because he is then speaking
    in the kind of abstractions that do not
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    relate to the human experience.
    The trouble in America where the negro
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    community is concerned is a very
    complicated one. I urge those of you
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    who have an actual rather than a
    purely ideologized interest in the
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    problem to read the book "Beyond
    the Melting Pot" by Professor Glazer,
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    also co-author of the "The Lonely Proud"
    a prominent Jewish intellectual who
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    points at the fact that the situation in
    America where the negros are concerned
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    is extremely complex as the result of an
    unfortunate conjunction of two factors.
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    One is the dreadful efforts to perpetuate
    discrimination by many individual American
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    citizens as a result of their lack of that
    final and ultimate concern which some
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    people are truly find agitate the other
    or is as a result of a failure of the negro
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    community itself to make certain exertions
    which were made by other minority groups
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    during the American experience. If you can
    stand a statistic not of my own making,
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    let me give you one which Professor
    Glazer considers as relevant. He says
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    for instance in 1900 there were thirty-five
    hundred negro doctors in America. In 1960
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    there were thirty-nine hundred. An increase
    in four hundred. Is this because there were
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    no opportunities, as has been suggested
    by Mr. Heycock and also by Mr. Baldwin
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    implicitly. "No," says Professor Glazer. There
    are great many medical schools who are
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    by no means practice discrimination who
    are anxious to receieve the trained negro
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    doctors. There are scholarships available
    to put them through, but in fact that
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    particular energy which he remarks was
    so noticeable in the Jewish community
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    to a certain and lesser extent in the
    Italian and Irish community for some reason
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    is not there. We should focus on the
    necessity to animate this particular
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    energy but he comes to the conclusion
    which strikes me as plausible. To the
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    people who can best do who can do it
    most effectively are negros themselves.
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    Let me conclude that by reminding you,
    ladies and gentlemen that where the
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    negro is concerned the dangers are as
    far as I can see it this moment is that they
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    will seek to reach out for some sort of
    radical solutions on the basis of which
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    the true problem is obscured. They have
    done a great deal to focus on the fact
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    of white discrimination against negros.
    They have done a great deal to agitate
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    a moral concern but where in fact
    do they go now? They seem to be slipping,
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    if you read carefully for instance the words
    of Mr. Bayard Rustin, toward some sort of
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    a procrustean formulation which ends up
    less urging the advancement of the negro
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    than the regression of the white people.
    Fourteen times as many people in
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    New York City born of negros are illegitimate
    as of whites. This is a problem. How should
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    be address this? By seeking out laws that
    encourage the legitimacy in white people?
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    This unfortunately tends to be the rhetorical
    momentum of some of the arguments are
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    Audience member: One thing you might
    do Mr. Buckley is let them vote in Mississippi.
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    Buckley: I couldn't agree with you more
    and for, except, lest I appear too
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    ingratiating which is hardly my objective
    here tonight. I think actually what is wrong
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    in Mississippi, sir, is not that not enough
    negros are voting but there are too many
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    white people are voting.
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    Booker T. Washington said, "That the
    important thing where negros are
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    concerned is not that they hold
    public office but they be prepared
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    to hold public office. Not that they vote
    but that they be prepared to vote.
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    What are we going to do with the
    negros having taught the negros
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    in Mississippi to despise Barnett,
    Ross Barnett, shall we then teach
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    them to emulate their cousins
    in Harlem and adore Adam
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    Clayton Powell Jr. It is much more
    complicated, sir, then simply the
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    question of giving them the vote.
    If I were myself a constituent of the
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    community of Mississippi at this moment
    what I would do is vote to lift the standards
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    of the vote so as to disqualify sixty-five
    percent of the white people who are
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    presently voting, not simply...
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    I say then what we need is a considerable
    amount of frankness that acknowledges
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    there are two sets of difficulties,
    the difficulties of the white person who
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    acts as white people, as brown people
    and black people do all over the world to
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    protect their own vested interests, who
    have as all the races in the entire world
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    have and suffer from a kind of racial
    narcissism to which tend to always
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    convert every contingency in such a way
    to maximize their own power. That yes
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    we must do, but we must also reach
    through to the negro people and tell them
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    that their best chances are in a mobile
    society and the most mobile society
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    in the world today my friends is the
    United States of America. The most
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    mobile society in the world is the
    United States of America, and it is
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    precisely that mobility which will give
    opportunities to the negros which
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    they must be encouraged to take, but
    they must not in the course of their
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    ordeal be encouraged to adopt the kind
    of cynicism, the kind of despair, the kind
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    of iconoclasm that is urged upon them
    by Mr. Baldwin in his recent works because
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    one thing I can tell you I believe with
    absolute authority that where the
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    United States is concerned if it ever
    becomes a confrontation between a
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    continuation of our own sort of idealism,
    the private start of, which granted like
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    most people in the world, we tend to
    lavish only every now and then on
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    public enterprises reserving it so often
    for our own irritations and pleasures,
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    but the fundamental friend of the negro
    people in the United States is the good
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    nature and is the generosity and is the
    good wishes, is the decency, the fundamental
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    decency that do lie at the preserves of the
    spirit of the American people. These must
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    not be laughed at and under no
    circumstances must they be laughed
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    at and under no circumstances must
    America be addressed and told that
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    the only alternative to the status
    quo is to overthrow that civilization
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    which we consider to be the faith
    of our fathers, the faith indeed of
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    your fathers. This is what must
    animate whatever meliorism that must
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    come because if it does finally come to
    confrontation, a radical confrontation,
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    between giving up what we understand
    to be the best features of the American
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    way of life, which at that level is
    indistinguishable as far as I can see
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    from the European way of life then
    we will fight the issue and we will
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    fight the issue not only in the Cambridge
    Union but we will fight it as you were
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    once recently called to do on beaches
    and on hills and on mountains and
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    on landing grounds and we will be
    convinced that just as you won the
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    war against a particular threat to
    civilization, you were nevertheless
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    waging a war in favor of and for
    the benefit of Germans, your own
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    enemies, just as we are convinced that if
    it should ever come to that kind of a
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    confrontation, our own determination
    to win the struggle will be a determination
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    to wage a war not only for whites but
    also for negros.
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    [long applause]
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    Unnamed person: Will the tellers take
    their places please. Voted in favor of the
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    motion, the motion being the American
    Dream at the expense of the negro
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    voted in favor of that motion five-hundred
    and-forty-four persons and against,
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    one hundred-and-sixty-four persons.
    The motion is therefore carried by
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    three-hundred-eighty-votes and I declare
    the house to stand adjourned.
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James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

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