Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Black America, Racism

James Baldwin 2: “There are no moral distances”

“Take This Hammer” is a documentary following James Baldwin on a visit to San Francisco in 1963. The film begins with a group of young men being interviewed on racism in the city. Here the white man is not taking you down in public like in the south but he is nonetheless “killing you with that pencil and paper”. Baldwin takes away the comfort blanket of liberal America when he goes on to say

“there is no moral distance, which is to say there is no distance, between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham”.

Dues have to be paid – the alternative is bankruptcy. White America has not being paying its dues and is now on the verge of Bankruptcy. I tried to think of what does Baldwin’s statement on moral distance and dues have to say to us today.

America and the Europe are fond of creating “moral distances” between “them and us”. The concept is an old and familiar one which has its roots in slavery and colonialism. Racism and white supremacy were built on the crude construction of “moral distance”. Creating a moral distance is deceitful as it hides the truth. Lies such as freedom and justice in America when we know that Black men can be shot in the back and we know for a fact they will not receive any justice especially if the killer is white policeman. We saw this from Abu Ghraibe, we continue to see if from Guantanamo. We know elections can be manipulated and falsified in the US just as they can in Nigeria. We know that the militarisation of commerce and political corruption are as rife in the US and Europe as they are in Angola and the DRC.

Reflecting on racism in the US with a group of young men, Baldwin makes the prophetic is Baldwin’s comment on the possibility of a Black president.

“There will be a Negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.”

At least we now know this to be true but Obama’s physical presence in the White House does not tell us the truth about race, on the contrary we are left with a highly disturbing moment. The Black conversations on the streets in 1963 whether on jobs, housing, prisons, education, or the police are the same conversations we are having in 2010. The ironies remain the same – “the man makes you tear down your own home and rebuild it for the white man” leaving you with no job and no home to go to “leaving us to live in tents”. Exactly what is happening with the increasing numbers of homeless. Michelle Alexander‘s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” illustrates that moral distance between the old Jim Crow and the new one, between 1963 and 2010 is not as great as some may have us believe.

The full video is below

Take This Hammer from Brendan Nee on Vimeo.