My Dungeon Shook

by James Baldwin

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What does Baldwin define as acceptance in "My Dungeon Shook"?

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Before Baldwin begins to make his points on acceptance and integration, he paints a brutal picture of racism for his nephew. He tells him that he is placed in a ghetto where it is intended and hoped that he would simply die there. He says that he, as a black man, will spend his whole life being told where and how he is allowed to exist.

This makes it surprising when Baldwin asserts that young James must accept the white man and accept him with love. Baldwin says seriously that it is the only hope for white people. They are trapped in a prison of their own making and cannot see the world for how it truly is. For the average white man to suddenly realize the error of his ways would be like him waking up to see the physical world out of balance. It is only through love and acceptance, Baldwin tells his nephew, that the white man can begin to see a clear reflection.

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In this open letter, James Baldwin challenges his nephew to accept white people despite their oppression of African Americans over the centuries. He says that, while it would be impertinent of his nephew to expect white people to accept him, he must accept them, and accept them with love. The reason for this is that, according to Baldwin, white people are innocent; they are trapped in a history they do not understand. And until they do understand that history, they will never truly be released from it.

Baldwin then goes on to offer a radical new interpretation of what integration means, an interpretation closely related to his point about acceptance. On his definition, integration involves African Americans forcing their white brothers—through acts of love—to see themselves as they really are so that they can begin to change reality instead of running away from it.

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