Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

Why does Baldwin link racism with sexual violence against African Americans in Going to Meet the Man?

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Baldwin's main point in this story is that racism is inherently connected to sexuality. It is at least partly the sexual insecurity of white men that leads them to carry out the brutal oppression of African Americans.

The story is told from the point of view of a white policeman named Jessie. Though Jessie is quite obviously racist, he nevertheless seems to possess some level of awareness that the whole project of racial dominance in the Jim Crow South is misguided and doomed. The troubled reaction he has to his own activities in beating up black men in the police station is evidently what causes him to have difficulty performing one night with his wife. He then dreams of an event from his childhood in which a man was lynched; his parents took him to witness it and, like the rest of the white people, treated the event as a kind of picnic. Jessie recalls the way the man who killed the prisoner caressed the man's genitals before castrating him. (The scene appears to interpret lynching as a form of sublimated homosexuality in addition to heterosexual insecurity.) Somehow this sickening imagery makes Jessie feel empowered, and he awakens, finds his ability restored, and makes his wife have rough sex with him.

Elsewhere in his writings, Baldwin asserted that in the United States, black men are viewed as "walking phallic symbols." White America has seen black males as a threat, with racist white men believing that African Americans will "take our women away from us." This paranoia is, of course, based largely on the fear of "miscegenation," the "mixing" of races, which the racist whites believe will "obliterate" the white race if the whites fail to "keep the black man in his place." Baldwin's "Going to Meet the Man" shows a brutal enactment of this dynamic, a microcosm of the racist mentality in which oppression is shown as a means of enforcing sexual dominance and exclusivity.

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