Perhaps it doesn’t need saying, but it occurs to me that it may be necessary, for some, to make clear the implications in the work of both Coates and Baldwin….
Baldwin is very clear. “Now, there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure.”
Coates’ characterization of “The Dream” as the deathbed of us all should make it clear enough that the “American Dream” – right down to the white fricking picket fences – must die. Which, in the light of all the Confederate flag rallies in the wake of Charleston, may mean that a cultural revolution of sorts is necessary.
What that revolution is and how it proceeds is hard to say. As Coates say, we Dreamers must learn to struggle with the same dignity and “great spiritual resilience” with which those we have oppressed for so long struggle.
It seems to me that this is beginning. It seems, as I look around at the new generation, that many of us are beginning to realize that the oppression of black people, of indigenous, of women, of GLBT – of all America’s “Others” – is of a piece. Identifying ourselves with that oppression is not so hard, really, if one just opens one’s eyes and looks around. As Colin Farrell’s character “Ray” says in response to his partner’s complaint that he doesn’t know how to be out in the world, “Hey, look out that window, look at me, nobody does.”
It’s a world that’s not making a place for most of us, and slowly, slowly, people are beginning to realize this must change. Coates cites the need for a “new story” – an idea advanced also by high-profile writers and speakers like Charles Eisenstein, Russell Brand and others which is gaining traction among a wide variety of groups in our society. People are understanding that nothing less than re-invention of society at its fundamental levels is going to make any difference. This is sometimes expressed as: To change anything, we must change everything. Of course, the corollary to that is: To change everything, we must change something. Beginning with how we view the world.
I think both Coates and Baldwin would agree with that assessment. And the gift they have for the world is an open-eyed, fearless willingness to see the world as it is. Baldwin says:
That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows… something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakeable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words.
This perspective is what these black writers bring to us. Maybe, if we can see how their experience is our own experience, we can be as strong, as durable, as brilliant as they and do our part in bringing about the changes that this world must see for whatever time we humans have left on the planet to be a time of love and dignity.