The Fire Next Time Questions and Answers
by James Baldwin

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What is meant by this quote?  "The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace...Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents...know about their children...And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes...have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing" (Pgs 101-102)

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African Americans have never needed to subscribe to dominant myths because they were born into a harsh reality of oppression, marginalization, and prejudice. The creation of myths is a privilege of power; as African  Americans have never exercised power in the United States to any great degree, they have not been able to generate the kind of galvanic, power-enhancing myths that entrench white dominance.

Such myths, however, are seldom consciously constructed. They develop over time, serving the needs of those who come to believe in them in various different ways. As successive generations of white people are raised under these myths, they lack the wider perspective on American history necessary to understand the nature of racial oppression. In blunt terms, they have been brainwashed. People who have been brainwashed tend not to be held responsible for their beliefs.

This is not to suggest that white people are in any way unaccountable for racist actions; I simply mean to point out that...

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