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Homosexuals And James Baldwin's Role In The Civil Rights Movement

1539 words - 7 pages

During the Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin wrote many articles and essays on racial issues. His unique and powerful style invoked the thoughts of many people. What also made Baldwin stand out from others was his homosexuality. Baldwin wrote several essays and novels that had a homosexual theme rooted within the story. It was through this method that Baldwin was able to express his homosexuality and at the same time present a view of black culture that was highly unacceptable during that time period. His works gave him much widespread attention but essentially he was not recognized as a prominent leader of the movement. This was a result of stereotyped images of ...view middle of the document...

Understanding why Baldwin was criticized requires a look into the time period in which the movement took place. According to Spurlin, Time Magazine on May 17, 1963, produced a cover story on Baldwin as part of an article that was titled “Races: Freedom - Now.” (105). The article highlights Baldwin and has much praise about his work. However, it takes a dreadful turn when the article says that Baldwin “is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Negro leader. He tries no civil rights cases in the courts, preaches from no pulpit, devises no stratagems for sit-ins, Freedom Riders or street marchers.” (qtd. in Spurlin 105). It begins to become clear that even though Baldwin is highly looked upon within the community, writing essays and novels isn’t seen as a form of action that will bring about change. However, the article had more to say about Baldwin, this time about his sexuality. It says that he is “a nervous, slight, almost fragile figure, filled with frets and fears. He is effeminate in manner, drinks considerably, smokes cigarettes in chains, and he often loses his audience with overblown arguments” (qtd. in Spurlin 105; emphasis added).

To label Baldwin as an effeminate figure is something that homosexuality is often stereotyped as being. Even though placing Baldwin in this stereotype has already a negative connotation, it is made worse by the views the African American community held about homosexuality at that time. Spurlin’s essay contains a remark made by Henry Louis Gates Jr. which says that the Black Power and Black Aesthetic movements made black national identity sexualized (ctd. in Spurlin 112). So for many critics of Baldwin’s work on homosexuality saw it as a threat to the movements that were going on in at the time because they claimed that his works asserted gay superiority which in effect makes African American men look weak and unmanly (112). So going back to Baldwin becoming a prospective leader for the movement to end racism, he could not become a realization simply because he did not fit the role. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were straight and supposedly possessed traits opposite to the stereotype that was placed on homosexual men like Baldwin.

Furthermore, people “saw homosexuality among blacks as a form of ideological penetration by whites, that is, as introduced into black culture from without and inherently foreign to it” (113). This statement further dampens Baldwin’s position as a viable leader because it is saying that because he is gay, he has been indirectly influenced by the white man. This would contradict the African American struggle for power in a white majority. This sense of penetration is written also by Ron Simmons who is cited in Sharon Patricia Holland’s essay. He says that “’homophobia’ is not so much a fear of ‘homosexuals’ but a fear that homosexuality will become pervasive in the community. Thus, a homophobic person...

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