I Am Not Your Negro
I knew nothing about James Baldwin, a lot more about Martin Luther King who features in this film from a distance. Baldwin was friends with three of the most important civil rights campaigners of their era in America: King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers.
I hadn't heard of Evers and didn't know much about Malcolm X; this isn't the documentary to shed light on them. Baldwin holds centre stage, a charismatic, articulate speaker, meditating on the race issues of Afro-Americans. There are some important reflections on identity, on how the 'negro' as a concept was invented by white America. Why was it? Until white America tries to answer this question, the race problems will continue.
We got flashes of footage of recent attacks from police on America's black community. I think this documentary is for white people, it's less a celebration of black activists than a focus on the layers of racism in America today as well as the severity of it, and with it the hypocrisy that remains of it in society. One example: Baldwin's rhetorical question, why is it that John Wayne or white Poles or Israelis carrying guns is heroic, but with black people, an identical statement or act is a crime.
This documentary is really a flashing sign: look how bad it's been, and for how long, and ask yourselves where and when you want things to get better, if you want it to get better.I don't know if an openly racist person would watch I Am Not Your Negro, but I count myself as someone relatively indifferent to America's racism and racism in general – I think their situation is bad but it doesn't affect me, etc. This film has made me reflect, though, and combined with the discrimination I feel I've experienced, of its own subtle kind recently when I've been looking for work, I have had a glimpse of what a dangerous state we inhabit mentally if we feel the system is geared against us. It's a feeling that drives you to a kind of madness; the kind that makes society look less like something organic and eternal, and instead like simply a game, one that's stacked against you and to the benefit of others. And from this perspective, if you do feel this way, the next natural option is to opt out of this particular game and play one with a different set of rules, ones that are more likely to benefit you. That could be revolution, or just the adoption of a subculture that embraces 'crime' - which in fact doesn't feel like crime at all, if they're not your rules that you're breaking anymore. They're just the rules of people happy to see you drown. And so you think 'fuck their rules,' and 'fuck them too.' For all the graphic violence suffered by America's black population, maybe this is the kind of mentality I empathise with most, the one that makes me think, 'God, I'm surprised there hasn't been an uprising recently.'