The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

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What does Baldwin mean by "black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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What Baldwin is referring to is the fact that racism separates black people, not just from whites, but from each other. The indignities of racism have instilled a certain mindset in African Americans that makes them seek a kind of artificial dignity in class distinctions. Essentially, they internalize society's racism and then use it to construct barriers between themselves and other African Americans on the basis of class. So, as well as constantly having to "look up" at white people, lower-class African Americans also have to do the same to their alleged social superiors of the same race.

Among other things, this means that black people are divided from each other when they should be united. Instead of coming together to fight racism and oppression, they're too busy trying to create a distinct social hierarchy that keeps a whole segment of black society down, oppressed by both white racism and black middle-class snobbery. In the meantime, white society can just look away, ignoring...

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