Black, White & Blue: James Baldwin’s I am Not Your Negro

Who are the heroes of today? The ones you would chapter a narrative based on? There are a billion people with a million followers, but is there a clear voice that can be distinguished through the static of a constant and rapidly shifting conversation? Isn’t this how we ended up where we are now, at a time when anyone with any form of persuasion could capture the nation’s attention and sell them a vacuum without a vacuum but only a handful of dirt on the rug?

I believe there was an opportunity, if not an invitation, for Obama to take up the position, but alas he too has joined the six-figure speech club at the Goldman Sachs arena.

As weeks pass with an alarming number of tweets towards the new norm, and every little thing he did gets undone, I feel like in a few years the only evidence that this country elected a black president will be a portrait lining a White House wall that 45 will have moved to hang over his private toilet.

Evers, King Jr. and X, that is an impressive trio of civil rights activists. Given ten minutes and a secure internet connection and you can add another five or six iconic figures from the 50s and 60s to that list, ranging from Ali to Robert Zimmerman.

James Baldwin

In spite of its use of archival footage, I don’t believe I Am Not Your Negro is meant to be viewed as a historical documentary. It plays like it’s being edited in real time with the insertion of images that are sensationalized on the nightly news, but unfortunately have become so commonplace they no longer raise an eyebrow. And that’s what gives the film it’s power. As it pairs the glossy photographs of modern protests with the grainy black & black prints from the past, it reminds us that we can’t be complacent because history doesn’t stop.

It’s been 26 years since we were horrified by the beating of Rodney King. If that happened today we would breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘at least they didn’t kill him.’


One of the most telling and troubling parts of the documentary was during one of Baldwin’s appearances on the Dick Cavett Show when he was confronted by an ‘intellectual’ who challenged him on why he’s gotta make it all about color, to which Baldwin replied, he doesn’t have a choice. This reminds me of the ‘All Lives Matter’ argument, the ‘good people on both sides’ debate, the ‘preserve our heritage’ smokescreen that is often presented when the person really just wants to say, ‘why you gotta be so black?’

Netflix and the growing number of streaming services are always in need of new content to expand their subscription base, so films like I Am Not Your Negro, 13th and other socially conscious documentaries will always have an outlet. Hopefully one day we can stop providing them with new material.

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