Boundaries


In the last paragraph or so of Baldwin’s letter to his nephew, he touches on the themes of love and identity. Like MLK, Baldwin seems to be a person who thinks that love and benevolence is vital to ending segregation and discrimination in the black community. But, unlike MLK’s letter, Baldwin’s suggests a different perspective on the reasoning behind the similar ideology.

Baldwin writes when African Americans gain their freedom, white Americans lose their sense of identity, because their identity has always relied on this discriminating class system. Like many dictators and monarchies in history, once one has power, or is benefiting from a system, it is hard and even scary for them to suddenly let go of their reality. Though many white people know that blacks are equal to them, Baldwin notes that the reason why these moderate white will not support the Civil Rights Movement, is that they are not willing to give up their way of life and place in society.

Another example in history of this kind of situation is during the Civil War in the American South. Evidently, slavery played a huge role in Southern participation in the Civil War, but also it is clear that not everyone in the South owned slaves. Many who served on the Southern side were not plantation owners, but mere commoners who were not going to be directly affected economically by the loss of slavery. The reason why they fought, was because the loss of slavery would threaten their identity, because now they would be at the bottom of the social totem pole. These poor Southern whites fought to retain their place in society, because in that lifestyle, at least their were “better” than slaves.

However, there is always going to be an invisible class system is society. There’s always going to be a group of people who “profit,” whether economically or socially, from a certain structure of society. And vice versa, there’s always going to be people where this social structure does not work in their favor. But, I believe that Baldwin isn’t trying to reinstate this class system in his letter, but rather indirectly telling his nephew not to be limited by the boundaries in which he was born into.

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