James Baldwin and Richard Wright are both world-renowned authors who wrote about issues affecting Black Americans. But they had serious “beef!” But why does understanding the tension between them matter today?
Baldwin’s main critique was that “Native Son” reinforced dangerous stereotypes about Black people in order to appease his white audience and sell more books.
Baldwin argued that it stripped Black people of our humanity in a time when we needed to be affirming it the most.
Representation matters – which is why Baldwin critiqued Wright. These were more than mere words on a page; they carried consequences.
Negative stereotypes reinforce racist beliefs. This leads to a public that devalues the lives of Blacks and sees us as expendable. Baldwin believed Wright contributed to these destructive narratives.
However, many argue that depicting the reality of our experiences is important, even if it confirms white stereotypes. Catering our art to speak AGAINST stereotypes is still letting them control what we do in a way.
All we know for sure is our words and actions can either uplift or tear down barriers created by racial stereotypes – so we must choose them wisely.