Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.
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James Baldwin in his house in Saint-Paul de Vence. (Photo: OT Saint Paul de Vence/Wikimedia Commons)

James Baldwin in his house in Saint-Paul de Vence. (Photo: OT Saint Paul de Vence/Wikimedia Commons)

In the clip below, James Baldwin powerfully explains why he, as a black man, has no reason to assume that white people care about him and his people.

Responding to Dick Cavett, he says, “I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.”

He goes on to present a devastating list of ways in which American institutions are segregated and biased. He concludes:

Now, this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith—risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children—on some idealization which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.

It was 1968, four years after the Civil Rights Act. This year marks its 50th anniversary. How much have things changed?

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “James Baldwin on the Idea That He Should Trust the Hearts of White People.”

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