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The Black Lives Matter Movement: Channeling James Baldwin, "My Dungeon Shook"

By       Message Dr. Lenore Daniels     Permalink
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A timely return to James Baldwin's "The Dungeon Shook," from The Fire Next Time:

Your face is like the face of your father, and like him, you are "tough, dark, vulnerable, moody--with a very definite tendency to sound truculent." You would not want anyone "to think you are soft." It is possible you are like the grandfather who never saw you. "You and your father resemble him very much physically." But the grandfather had a "terrible life." Why? He became a "defeated" man; before he died, deep down, he came to believe what white people said about him. He became "holy."

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Sorry, but I must tell you this! And I tell you that you "can only be destroyed" if you believe you are what they tell you, what they tell the world about you. "What the white world calls a n-word ." But do not worry--you and your father do not "exhibit any tendency toward holiness: you really are of another era, part of what happened when the Negro left the land and came into what the late E. Franklin Frazier called 'the cities of destruction.'"

I love you! I love you! "[A]nd please don't you ever forget it."

Other people do not see what I see when I recall your father. They cannot remember what I remember. They cannot hear his laughter as a child or his howling. They have no memory of him crying. "I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it."

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Why? Because we are not free! We reside within something for which we must struggle to burst! For I know the worse. The crime! I know the crime of which "I accuse my country and countrymen," the crime for "which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them." So many lives! "Hundreds of thousands of lives," destroyed and are being destroyed--and worse: many "do not know it and do not want to know it."

To live in the innocence bubble is intoxicating favorable.

But this is not acceptable. It cannot be "permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."

Yes, yes, yes! I hear the "chorus of the innocence" screaming: "'No! This is not true! How bitter you are!'"

How hard it is to speak truth to power in the belly of the beast! It is harder still to write as a Black in America write about being Black in America.

But now, here it is--for what its worth, a letter to you, my nephew, written "on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation."

Do we hear an articulation of our current situation in the The United States? How long ago did James Baldwin, writer and activist write these words? And yet the bulk of the content of this letter to his nephew is relevant today.

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When I think about the Black Lives Matter protesters, when I think about the dead bodies, Black youth shot down in our police state, when I think about how long this has been going on, how long ago when we thought the revolution would happen...I think about James Baldwin and the "My Dungeon Shook" from The Fire Next Time. That letter acknowledging a recognition of hate and, yes, love, from one generation to the next so resonates today: They may hate you, but I love you!

Your life matters to us-to those who love you!

And you must love yourself as you struggle and you love in an understanding that you are not the problem!

" I am writing this letter to you , to try and to tell you something about how to handle them , for most of them do not yet really know that you exist...I know the conditions under which you were born..."

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.


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