Two future revolutionaries, with similar upbringings, yet contributing on two entirely different platforms had no idea of the impact they would bring, nor had intention of making such a statement. One of these people was Marsha P. Johnson, an American drag queen and sex worker. She was best known for her role in the Stonewall riots. Her first trip to Stonewall was merely to celebrate her 25th birthday, but her influence would extend far from that day; eventually being a contribution to countless gay and transgender rights to be sanctioned in the future.
Like Johnson, author James Baldwin was gay, black, and layed a significant role during the time of great social upheaval. Their stories help define a phrase full of uncertainty, one that can only be explained when recalling the words and actions of people in history- the American Experience. Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.
With these words, Baldwin exhibits how the American Experience is constantly changing with the acts of those with the nerve to go against the normalities of the time, in turn shaping America in the process. Though different rom person to person, those marginalized in society allow a greater insight to the experience, for they represent a viewpoint rarely looked upon. Early American writer, James Baldwin, successfully portrayed the ever-changing American experience through inclusion of cultural, social, and personal elements within his works.
With such a broad term, it’s simpler to break it down into parts in order to develop a better understanding. The ideal way to do this is to view multiple interpretations of the phrase, and take the prevalent recurrences into account. The Network Journal tates that to understand the African American Experience, one must include, “the institution of slavery, the civil rights movement, and post-civil rights movement”. These are sometimes discarded when describing the black experience, for America is not proud of such times, but are necessary nonetheless.
The reason why it may be trying to link the African American Experience, with the all-encompassing American Experience is because, “from America’s origins to the present day, division is always present, as it clearly defines the American people” (The Huffington Post). From the time that black people were introduced to America, it was a relationship built off separation. America has attempted to detach themselves from the actions committed against black people and the culture the group has brought to the country, thus essentially “whitewashing” the American Experience.
Baldwin often noted the culture along with the trials and tribulations brought upon to him by growing up in Harlem, New York. His hometown allowed him to experience the musical involvement of the time, as well as having a first-hand encounter with poverty and violence. These aspects shined through his works, thus contributing to the American Experience, even though many Americans were unaware of this way of life. One of his stories, Sonny’s Blues, recounts a young man struggle with drug addiction, due to his apprehension of devoting himself to his true passion, playing the piano.
Baldwin amplifies the drug issue in Harlem when he recalls, “Yet it had happened and here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. ” This narration allows he audience to immerse themselves into the problems of his town, and have a considerable empirical involvement in the crime involved with such a community. Another element of Harlem found within Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is insight to the role music played in the community.
Baldwin includes this with, “He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. ” One is able to read this and understand the gravity music plays in the culture of his hometown without experiencing it themselves, allowing them to have a broader sense of the phrase The American Experience. Culture throughout the works of Baldwin contribute to the meaning of The American Experience through his use of Harlem. Social issues were included within the writings of Baldwin, which helps the country develop a full notion of what the American Experience actually is.
In a time when attitudes towards the black community were still immensely tense, Baldwin recognized the viewpoints white people had towards them, and pointed such out in his work. He traveled to Switzerland and descried the differences in the perspective of black people from white Americans and white Swiss. From this he concluded that though the Swiss made him feel like a stranger, they did not have a racist prejudice as Americans do, rather were just curious.
This prejudice and avoidance of the inclusion of black people in American history is expanded when he said, “American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocent, of returning to a state in which black men do not exist”, in his story Stranger in the Village. From this, those reading are able to realize that the American Experience they have been living hrough is entirely different from a black person, due to the omission of America’s dark past.
Baldwin’s relevance of this truth allows a more accurate addition to what the Experience actually is, through the social elements included in his stories. The personal components of James Baldwin’s writings allowed for America to envisage his values-contributes to the altering of the American Experience. Baldwin wrote at the time of the dissolution of Jim Crow Laws, but America was far from accepting his race. Black people were still viewed as immoral and incapable of valuing the same things as white people, but Baldwin aided in ridding such beliefs.
Baldwin was raised in a religious home, and continued being a man of faith throughout his life. He included biblical elements and imagery to create morals within his stories. In his book The Fire Next Time he states, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. ” America had a high concentration of Christians, especially at the time of this book’s publication. Such a belief was able to be widely accepted by the audience, and allowed them to realize that though
Baldwin was a black man, and completely different from them in their eyes, he still believed in the same God and was moral in that sense. This greater toleration led to America becoming more willing to widen their perception of the American Experience from simply the history and actions of white people, but of black people as well. By including personal details in his writings, Baldwin was able to widen and contribute to the American Experience. James Baldwin not only played a factor in developing the American Experience, but through his works, was able to expand the term altogether.
This was performed through the inclusion of cultural, social, and personal features within each story. Baldwin believed strongly that during his time, it seemed as if the American Experience would be entirely based off the experiences of white people, but due to him, his impact has created an extension of what is recounted and believed to be the phrase. Just as the gay and transgender community needed Marsha P. Johnson to represent their beliefs, the black population needed James Baldwin in order to broaden what America views today as the country’s Experience.