Looter to Who? James Baldwin on Racism in America

In 1968, essayist, novelist and activist James Baldwin spoke with Esquire about racism in America, Dr. Martin Luther King, poverty and police brutality. In our current era of high profile police violence in communities like Ferguson, Missouri, and protests in Baltimore, Maryland, Baldwin’s words sound as prescient and, unfortunately, fresh as they did forty-seven years ago, proving the slow pace of progress in America, and how much hard work we have left to do. Below is an excerpt from the interview:

Q. How would you define somebody who smashes in the window of a television store and takes what he wants?

BALDWIN: Before I get to that, how would you define somebody who puts a cat where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn’t really want the TV set. He’s saying screw you. It’s just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn’t want it. He wants to let you know he’s there. The question I’m trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media-television and all the major news agencies-endlessly use that word “looter”. On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it’s obscene.

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