James Baldwin（1924－1987）― what a nostalgic name! This name gives me pain because I remember the time when I read his novel Giovanni’s Room as a young girl.
I am not your negro is based upon Baldwin’s uncompleted book Remember this House, which he started writing in 1979. The director Raul Peck traced Baldwin’ activities by collecting all kinds of data about him ― interviews, essays, lectures, TV talks ― and made this documentary film in 2016. Remember this House originally dealt with the author’s dearest friends, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King. Jr., all of who are, needless to say, famous and strong figures/activists in the Black Liberation Movement. All three of them were shot to death in 1963 (Evers), 1965 (Malcom X) and 1968 (King Jr.) during their preaching.
In 1957, Baldwin encountered a shocking article in a newspaper in Paris where he was staying. A fifteen-year old black girl from Charlotte of North Carolina was on her way to her high school alone. She was the first black person in the high school. As she walked to school, she looked frightened and tense, yet showed a sense of pride. She was surrounded by white people who ridiculed and sneered at her. ”They pay their own due!” ―Baldwin decided to return his own country
Right after he had returned to the US, he began to take all kinds of actions for anti-discrimination against black people. Baldwin appeared in a TV talk show, where a while professor argued he preferred black educated people to non-educated white people and Baldwin was obsessive about skin color. Baldwin responded by giving actual examples of discrimination saying “you still tell me to risk my life and that of my family trusting this country under such circumstances?” And he continued to ask, “even though we never ever know of any utopia mentioned by you?” In the feminism context, you hear the same statement, that every one of us can at first begin as a human being before claiming discrimination against women. How could we be a human being before being conscious about being a woman and/or black?
I’m not your negro illustrates the utopia of “American Dreams” created by white dominant media and/or “the whites are heroes” belief seen in a film like A Stagecoach (1939). At the same time, the brutal oppression against black people and their consequent riot are shown alternatingly. The death of three activists and their funerals with the mourning mass are also presented. Baldwin’s assertive speeches here or there are introduced in between.
Feeling depressed after watching the movie, I asked myself what is my responsibility as a neither white or black person? How can I pay my due if possible? Not only is the issue heavy to answer, but I do not know what level of consciousness I have to reach to have an answer. I am certainly aware of the fact that prejudice, bias and discrimination also exist in Japan. As a feminist, I mean to stand at the position of anti-discrimination against all kinds but wonder how I can prove myself by just stating so. It seems that there are multi-layered dimensions within our consciousness. Who knows what is your own clear and clean consciousness?
I lived in the US from 1968 to 1980 and had a Japanese American 3-sei husband whose parents had been forced to put into the concentration camp during the Second World War. My parents-in-law seemed to have had bitter emotional lives due to their hard experience in past just like how other Japanese Americans experienced the camp. My ex-husband usually complained about the whites’ malicious intention against the “yellow orientals.” I, as a “new generation”, haven’t felt real discrimination but have heard my in-laws’ voices. But blacks are ‘different’ as long as they have their own ancestors who were captured/sold/bought even though they are now called “African Americans.”
Here is a Baldwin’s painful speech: “Blacks are not naïve enough to be just singing by a river as you would like to think of. They have survived in this cruel nation”. “‘Niggers haven’t been happy, never, ever”. “The whites should ask themselves why you people need “niggers.” One who calls me “nigger” is one who needs “nigger”. You ask yourself again. I am not a “nigger,” but am created by you white people. When and if you can ask yourself this question, there will be a future”.
The title I am not your negro contains deep meaning, that is, I am not here to be needed by you!
The film received many awards all over the world.
Director: Raul Peck Original book and cast: James Baldwin Narrator: Samuel L Jackson Music: Alexei Aigui Production： America/France/Belgium/Switzerland, English, 2016, 93 min.
Original article in Japanese