At one point, he writes: "This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition, were thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being." (7)
Writing as a African American in the early 1960s, Baldwin words are clearly confronting the specific realities of anti-Black racism in the United States. But I think that these words, and the work in general, have a universality which transcends Baldwin's historical context, and speaks to fundamental questions of our human condition. There are are a number of ways that this quote could be extended into our class discussions, especially in regards to military-foreign policy, but I think another topic to which it speaks profoundly is our immigration debate. The notion of illegality, as a means to describe the legal status of people who live in this country, although distinct from, but nevertheless related to race, also serves to define millions of lives in this country. To be illegal, that is to say without documentation, dictates where you live, where you work, where and if you attend school, and imposes a certain limitation to what your life is feasibly capable of achieving. Illegality also, as the Arizona immigration law so markedly illustrates, carries certain racial connotations.
Fredrickson outlines in his book the decline of overtly racist regimes, and in its stead, the rise of a new cultural racism which replaces racial groups with cultural/religious groups. In understanding what Baldwin can mean to us today, we have to look not just at racial groups, but at the ways in which racist ideologies have transformed into ways of excluding and oppressing other subaltern groups. That is to say that while keeping the black/white paradigm in our vision, we need to look at it not as the the epitome of racism, but rather a model for how racism works amongst our human societies.