To figure out what race in America meant to James Baldwin by the 1970s, one should look at Baldwin’s writings during the 1970s and think about how he presents race. His depiction of race will likely reveal why it dominated his attention.
In 1972, James Baldwin published a work of nonfiction called No Name in the Street. Near the end of the text, Baldwin delves into his present thoughts on race. For Baldwin, America doesn’t have a “race problem.” In fact, Baldwin believes that this term prevents America from confronting the real problem at hand: the way that people in America treat their children.
Baldwin connects the state of Black people to that of “flower children” or the young white people who had repudiated the “promises and possibilities offered them” by America. Baldwin feels for their “idealistic, frightened, impotent” condition. He links their sense of doom to the doom that has beset Black people in America for centuries. As Baldwin states, “The flower children seemed completely aware that the blacks were their denied brothers.”
Baldwin presents the situation of the flower children as not totally inapplicable to the experience of Black people in general. Yet Baldwin portrays the latter’s experience in significantly starker terms. “The Blacks are the despised and slaughtered children of the great Western house,” says Baldwin.
Overall, at least in the context of No Name in the Street, race meant children and young people and their relationship to Black people. This dynamic arguably became a dominant focus of Baldwin’s attention because, if America hoped to have a positive future, the two groups would need to work together and build “the foundations of a new society.”