What solution does James Baldwin offer to end America's racial divide?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The solution offered by Baldwin in his book, The Fire Next Time, is an emotional-psychological and social-consciousness solution to the (many) problems springing from the racial divide. Baldwin does not advocate a specific course of political action as a concrete plan to erase the "color line" but rather proposes that an effort to see others for who/what they are is the best way to assuage the race conflicts in America. 

In the volume's first essay, "My Dungeon Shook," Baldwin writes to his nephew that black Americans might be called upon to enact the kind of acceptance he sees as a solution because white Americans cannot reasonably be expected to do so in mid-century America. 

"There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. [...] You must accept them and accept them with love."

Baldwin expands upon this argument in the second essay of the volume, "Down at the Cross," and proposes that "total liberation" is necessary "before the law, and in the mind" for both whites and blacks to find any chance at becoming a single nation. This liberation is one of integration, in practice, but more importantly is one of consciousness in its primary workings. People must learn to see the existence of the other - to recognize that existence as its own good and thus cease making attempts to curb difference or narrow a divide defined by cultural/perspectival differences

Baldwin suggests that a difference in point of view is not the problem. The problem is that instead of acknowledging and respecting the point of view of others, America is characterized by a willful blindness and an intentional strategy of ethno-centrism. Baldwin mentions this blindness in each essay and uses it as what we might call a working definition of the problem of racial division. 

"All of us know that mirrors can only lie..."

In not working to develop a consciousness and awareness of the ethnic identities that make up America (by only focusing on the one we claim for ourselves), the nation perpetuates not only a sense of racial division but a sense also that there is not a single nation in America. Rather there is a set of mutually exclusive nations and mutually exclusive experiences of life here. 

Proposing that in turning away from blindness and so opening our eyes to see the validity and the reality of others, we might escape the cruelty that comes with seeing only outlines of the other which we fill in with fearful attributes. Seeing only color becomes a way of superficial thinking that first creates then builds upon a dangerous ignorance. 

Baldwin makes the point that, regrettably, this superficial mode of thinking about and seeing race is an entrenched (and reactionary) mode of thinking, invoked in our cultural institutions and enforced by our justice system. 

"Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality."

Baldwin spends much of the essay considering the ways that fear and judgement are co-related in the context of the racial divide in America. His take on the situation is that a lack of true empathy - or, more primarily, a lack of consciousness - between the races in America generates a systematically negative sensibility that can best be combated by addressing the root of the problem.