Baldwin In A Microcosm

  • Category: Philosophy
  • Words: 574
  • Grade: 100
Jessie Burke

AP English-3rd Period

Dr. Covel

February 11, 2000

Baldwin in a microcosm

"Not everything that is faced can be changed

but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

- James Baldwin

        Racism has been a part of American and world history for centuries, and has become a pattern in cultures. James Baldwin was an African-American author who, like many black men and women, struggled against the inherent hate/racism in America. Baldwin had the opportunity to travel to a microcosmic Swiss village atop a mountain. His story of the native's curiosity towards him and eventually fondness challenges the idea that racism is quickly overtaking the world.

A microcosm, by definition is a representation of something on a smaller scale. In the Renaissance age, philosophers considered the world to be a macrocosm hosting millions of individual microcosms: people. The term microcosm signifies the creation of the human being as a complete world. In contrast, macrocosm refers to the idea of the whole universe outside humanity. This idea that an individual person is a world unto himself, surely influenced Baldwin in the writing of his essay pertaining to the small Swiss village that was "virtually unknown" (124).

The village that Baldwin verbosely writes about is not specified although he tells us that the warm springs are a tourist draw and that the village is "only four hours from Milan and three hours from Lausanne" (124), but this gives the reader little information about the city. The imagery that forms while reading the passage comes directly from the population of the village. The men, women, and children, are all astounded by Baldwin's skin color and hair texture. Some of the inhabitants believed that Baldwin's hair "was the color of tar, that it had the texture of wire, or the texture of cotton" (125). The sheer astonishment of the village natives took Baldwin by surprise, as did the young children shouting "Neger Neger!"

The people of the town, although geographically sheltered, are the same people that Baldwin knew as he grew up. He says that "America comes out of Europe, but these people have never seen America, nor have most of them seen more of Europe than the hamlet at the foot of their mountain" (127). Baldwin grew up in Harlem and suffered from racism in many ways. He recalls be called the very same derogatory word that the children in the Swiss village called him, but the difference was that the children in Harlem had an inbred racism and the Swiss children had never seen a black man before. Therefore, one must question if racism an inborn flaw or if it something that is acquired from age. By looking at Baldwin's testimony, one could assume that racism and hate are innate flaws that all people are born with. Baldwin said that people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.

An often-overlooked aspect of Baldwin's personal philosophy is the fact that he was a humanist. Baldwin believed that racism stemmed from the insecurities of men, who turned others into scapegoats to bolster internal feelings of powerlessness. Through his works, Baldwin's arguments for civil rights transcend color boundaries and stress the idea that, regardless of race or culture, everyone is a human being and deserves to be treated accordingly. Baldwin's attitude is a far cry from how he was often treated.
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