If Beale Street Could Talk; Would There Be Any Black Men Around To Listen My Friend?

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(ThyBlackMan.com) The moment that the trailer for If Beale Street Could Talk began, my spirit leapt for joy as I realized that the story unfolding on the screen was James Baldwin’s classic story of Love and Blackness in a nation that routinely seeks to stomp out the latter in a desperate to prevent the descendants of enslaved Africans from accessing the former. This much I knew was true, I would be present the moment this film was released for a host of reasons that all boiled down to my continuous attempt to engulf myself with the Love that Baldwin continually pointed us toward.

  • Love of insightful writing.
  • Love of Black people.
  • Love of ideas.

Trust me when I say that I could place innumerable items to this Love list.

I knew that the debut of If Beale Street Could Talk would be extremely bittersweet for me for the following reasons. On the one hand, I was encouraged by the fact that Baldwin’s melancholy story would be shown to a nation full of moviegoers, on the other hand, it has always saddened me that such efforts have to be made. Despite my best efforts to avoid the following conclusion about “my fellow countrymen” a term that James Baldwin frequently used, the truth of the matter is that this has never served as the Citadel of thought, smarts, or intellectual curiosity. Not knowing is one of this nation’s grandest traditions. Unfortunately for Black America, there may be no greater moment that displays our identity as Americans than our replication of White America’s never-ending pursuit to remain encased in the blissfulness that ignorance promises.

Participant observation has taught me that this compulsion to not know is an epidemic among Black males regardless of age, educational level, or socioeconomic status.

The fact that so few Black men have no clue of social criticisms importance saddens. The undeniable reality that Black men do not realize that it is James Baldwin, one of their own, who earned the right to be considered this nation’s foremost social critics deepens my sadness. The reality that the compulsion to not know among Black men has facilitated their ignorance of Baldwin, Ellison, Wright, and a host of serious Black writers. This cadre of Black intellectuals provides crucial lifesaving tools to assist them as they seek to perform the same soul draining survival task that Black men have done for the last four hundred years.

As an educator, I thought that the Gods were being unusually cruel when they led a student in one of my African-American Studies courses to raise their hand during a discussion of Black intellectuals Richard Wright and James Baldwin, the two central figures of the Chicago Renaissance, and ask the following question.

Is James Baldwin one of the Baldwin brothers? You know, Stephen and Alec.”

If Beale Street Could Talk excavated this gross display of not knowing lodged somewhere in my brain. Predictably, this occurrence paved the way for a serious conversation between Damon Thomas, my best friend, and I. Damon, a middle school teacher as an elite Jewish Academy located in Manhattan, revealed that Jimmy Baldwin’s timeless story was his path to escaping the sunken place of not knowing during his teen years. He cites Baldwin’s work as the pivotal moment in his development of what is best termed intellectual curiosity. Our conversation began with a simple question of “Can you explain to me why there were only three Black men present to view If Beale Street Could Talk?”

Of course, prior discussions that emphasized my disgust with the manner that Black men ignore the serious Black writers mentioned above contextualized this discussion. Damon offered an interesting take regarding why the type of intellectual engagement that a few Black men considered normal was uncommon among others.

It begins in the elementary and middle school years when Black boys decide that they will resist the educational process ‘by any means necessary.’ By the time that they reach my classroom they have been socialized by a host of factors regarding what is and what is not Blackness. This is where so much of the hostility to intellectual endeavors manifests itself. The fact that the standard school curriculum is lily-white does not help matters at all.

Many of these young brothers learn from male role models that true Black manhood is not found inside of a classroom, it is earned in the streets via hooligan behavior. I know that you have seen the recent rash of videos showing Black males insulting and physically attacking their teachers. In the world that they live in education is for suckers and irrelevant to their survival.

If the above is true, there is little wonder why there were so few Black males present at the debut of If Beale Street Could Talk. It appears that efforts to exist in a society that Baldwin repeatedly reminded us hates Blackness has created a situation where survival efforts and the need to escape what for most is a hellish existence through sports, entertainment, and sexual escapades has precluded the engagement of Black males with a host of great Black writers that although not necessarily as entertaining as a touchdown or last-second winning shot are crucial to their sanity and the saving of their soul.

When viewed through a prism that Black men have learned to simply survive the moment in front of them, it becomes understandable why there were only a few Black men present to view If Beale Street Could Talk. I guess that the film and by extension James Baldwin’s writings were not salacious enough for Black men. Unfortunately for Black America, this avoidance of serious matters serves as yet another notice that four-hundred years of oppression is insufficient to drive Black men toward pursuing permanent solutions to all that troubles their mind, body, and soul.

Staff Writer; Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Official website; http://www.ManhoodRaceCulture.com

One may also connect with this brother via TwitterDrJamestJones.