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Learning Racism in Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin Essay

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Learning Racism in Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin


James Baldwin, an African American author born in Harlem, was raised by his violent step-father, David. His father was a lay preacher who hated whites and felt that all whites would be judged as they deserve by a vengeful God. Usually, the father's anger was directed toward his son through violence. Baldwin's history, in part, aids him in his insight of racism within the family. He understands that racists are not born, but rather racist attitudes and behaviors are learned in the early stages of childhood. Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man is a perfect example of his capability to analyze the growth of a innocent child to a racist.

Every child is born with innocence. During the flashback to Jesse's childhood, where he witnesses the mutilation and torture of a blackman, Jesse's innocence is apparent. Jesse has a black friend named Otis who he hasn't seen for a few days. When he asks his father where Otis is, the father replies, "I reckon Otis's folks was afrad to let him show himself this morning"(Baldwin, p. 2006). Jesse naturally responds, "But Otis ain't do nothing." His father explains, "We just wanna make sure Otis don't do nothing, and you tell him what your Daddy said"(Baldwin, p. 2006). This statement implies that because Otis is black, he is eventually going to do something wrong. The father has subconsciously put negative thoughts inside of Jesse's head. Baldwin's own father also acted in this way when he stereotyped all whites as being bad and claimed they would be punished by God.

In the midst of all the commotion, Jesse is unable to sleep the night before the lynching. Within another flashback to that night, Jesse feels a strong need to have his ...


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...se toward the father has replaced the longing for the mother. "Jesse loved his father more than he had ever loved him"(Baldwin, p. 2010). He feels like a man because, "his father had carried throught a mighty test, had revealed to him a great secret which would be the key to his life forever." He subconsciously traded his innocence for closness to his father.

Going to Meet the Man allows readers to recongnize how a racist is built through ingnorance. Baldwin ends his story with Jesse in bed with his wife. The memories of the mutilation of the negro arise in his mind and he feels arrounsed. He turns to his wife and says, "Come on sugar, I'm going to do you like a nigger." Jesse cannot recognize that these memories of the lynching have made him sexually arroused by violence. As a result, he has become a violent man with a disturbed idea of love, sex and blacks.


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