A Talk to Teachers

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

In "A Talk to Teachers," what myths does Baldwin describe as central to America's self-perception?

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The first myth that Baldwin explodes is that America's greatest threat is from Russia.  He declares that America's greatest threats are domestic, and that specifically, any attempts to right the wrongs of the denial of civil rights will be forcefully resisted by the status quo in the country.  

A paradox that Baldwin confronts is that America likes to think of itself as a country that values independent thought and free speech; but when people become a little too free in their thinking and speech, they become inconvenient to have around. Baldwin observes, in this speech to a group of teachers, that American schools exist to "perpetuate the aims of society." Baldwin criticizes a society that claims to value "liberty and justice for all" but perpetuates a myth about black people: their value to society is proven only by their devotion to white people.

Baldwin goes on to say that it is a myth that the "Negro revolution" is upsetting the country; in his mind, "what is upsetting the country is a sense of its own identity." He advocates for teaching black people about themselves and their contributions to American culture; in doing so, this knowledge would free both black and white people who "know nothing about their own history."

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