Friday, September 14, 2018

Frames as Ways of Seeing the World

Some possible definitions of the word “frame” include (1) “a rigid structure surrounding a picture, door, or windowpane,” (2) ”a metal or plastic structure holding the lenses of a pair of glasses,” and (3) “a rigid supporting structure of a vehicle, aircraft, or other object.” Other possible definitions include (4) “a person’s body, with reference to its size or build,” (5) "a basic underlying structure of a system, concept, or text,” and (6) “a single complete picture in a series forming a cinema, television, or video film.”1  
       Erving Goffman, a noted Canadian-American sociologist who, in his book Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974), explores the extent to which social frameworks enable us to organize and interpret experience, describes frames as principles of organization that govern our subjective involvement in events. Frame analysis is thus the examination of those principles of organization.2 Some frames are neatly ordered and arranged as systems of rules, while others are more loosely arranged and articulated. Frames may be primary or secondary, implicit or explicit, and they may function as guides to our understanding of social events or situations. Every social group may utilize its own frames (viewpoints, attitudes, or belief systems) for the purpose of dealing with and understanding social reality.
      Goffman says that framing may be subject to vagueness, ambiguity, or error, which may lead to uncertainty or dispute regarding whether a given event or situation has been correctly framed. There may also be uncertainty or dispute regarding the nature and range of subjects that can be included within a given frame, and the nature and range of viewpoints that can be accommodated by a given frame. Thus, some interpreters may describe some examples of framing (of intuitions, perceptions, concepts, etc.) as examples of misreading or misframing.
       Goffman also says that a frame “organizes more than meaning; it also organizes involvement…All frames involve expectations of a normative kind as to how deeply and fully the individual is to be carried into the activity organized by the frames. [And] Of course, frames differ quite widely in the involvement prescribed for participants sustaining them.”3
      Charles J. Fillmore (1976), an American linguist who founded frame semantics, describes framing as “the appeal, in perceiving, thinking, and communicating, to structured ways of interpreting experiences.”4 He says that “in characterizing a language system we must add to the description of grammar and lexicon a description of the cognitive and interactional "frames" in terms of which the language-user interprets his environment, formulates his own messages, understands the messages of others, and accumulates or creates an internal model of his world.”5
      Robert M. Entman (1993), an American political scientist, public policy analyst, and communication theorist, describes framing as an activity in which some aspects of a perceived reality are "made more salient in a communicating text in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item[s] described.”6
      George Lakoff (2004), an American cognitive scientist and linguist, explains that

      “Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics, our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.”7

      So, what kinds of frames are there? What kinds of things can be framed? What is or can be inside or outside a frame? How does a frame demarcate the inside from the outside, the delimited from the undelimited, the defined from the undefined?
      Frames may be cognitive or psychological, linguistic or conceptual, semantic or pragmatic, theoretical or practical. They may also be elemental or structural, literal or metaphorical, contemporary or historical, vertical or horizontal, cross-sectional or longitudinal.
      Frames may also be visual, textual, conversational, literary, theatrical, cinematic, social, or cultural.
      When we frame something we may be presenting a particular way of looking at it or delineating a particular perspective from which it may be viewed. We may also be defining the terms in which it may be examined, or describing a particular context in which it may take on certain implications or meanings.
      A frame of mind may be a particular attitude or viewpoint, a particular mood, or a particular way of looking at the world that influences a person’s behavior.
      A frame of reference may be “a set of criteria in relation to which judgments can be made” or “a system of geometric axes in relation to which measurements of size, position, or motion can be made.”8
      A frame of reference may also be ”any set of lines, directions, planes, etc., such as the coordinate axes, relative to which the position of a point in space can be described.”9       
      A picture frame (e.g. for a drawing, painting, photo, or diploma) may be square, rectangular, circular, or oval. It may be equiangular or non-equiangular, equilateral or non-equilateral, wooden or metal, flat or raised, sculpted or unsculpted, chiseled or unchiseled, carved or uncarved, painted or unpainted, plain or ornamented (decorated).
      W.H. Bailey (2002) describes the many functions of painting frames, and says that

“Of all the functions of a frame, the most significant is that of mediator between the viewer and the painting, both physically and aesthetically. On the practical side, an effective frame reconciles the world of the viewer to the world of the painting in both form and scale…As mediator, the frame must succeed in a challenging twofold role: it must invite us into the painting and prevent us from escaping its bounds once inside. The design must effect a transition from the existing physical location, usually a wall in a room or gallery, into the illusionistic realm of the painting. This should occur graciously and imperceptibly. The frame should also prepare the eye and mind of the viewer to accept and embrace the domain of the painting on its own terms.”10

      Choosing the right frame for something (e.g. for a drawing, painting, concept, argument, or set of arguments) may be a matter of the frame’s design, configuration, dimensions, ease of application, and ability to complement, enhance, and provide an appropriate setting for its contents.
      Frames (of meaning, reference, or representation) may be like windows to the world. To select a particular frame may be to select a particular way of looking at the world. To select a different frame may be to select a different way of looking at the world.
      When we frame a problem we may also be defining its limits or dimensions. An inadequate, unsuitable, or ill-fitting frame may not enable us to properly assess a problem’s complexities or fully appreciate and understand them.
      Cognitive framing provides us with a way of analyzing and evaluating things. When we frame something, we may provide ourselves with a way of approaching, interacting with, and responding to it.
      Stating premises or assumptions may be a way of framing statements, arguments, and conclusions.
      Conceptual framing may also enable us to frame (define, investigate, and elaborate) concepts in terms of other concepts.
      We may also flip through, rearrange, reorder, change, and reprioritize frames.
      A “time frame” may be a given period or duration of time, especially with respect to some action or project.11 Thus, to ask “What time frame do you have in mind?” may be to ask “When or how long do you have in mind?” or “From what time to what time?” A possible answer could be “From 3 to 6 p.m.” or “Between this Tuesday and next Thursday,” or “Sometime before next month,” or “From August 1st until September 30th.”
       Many things (such as political agendas, economic policies, social obligations, financial investment risks, and medical treatment options) may be framed positively or negatively, depending on whether the objective is to get people to accept or reject them.
      To frame a debate may be to determine what the debate will be about, what its direction will be, what issues will be discussed, what it will attempt to resolve, and what the ground rules for engagement will be.
      Relations between frames may include: sameness, similarity, difference, congruity, incongruity, commensurability, incommensurability, interchangeability, succession, superimposition, overlap, agreement, conflict, competition, and opposition.
      When someone is “framed” for some offense, they may be falsely accused, falsely implicated, or unfairly “set up” by false witnesses, false testimony, false evidence, or corrupt police, prosecutorial, or judicial procedures.
      Frames may enclose fields of meaning and representation. They may also enclose fields of interest, concern, attention, perception, memory, and experience. They may also shut out or exclude extraneous domains or fields. They may also intersect with or be included (as subframes) within other frames.
      Gail T. Fairhurst, professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati, and Robert A. Sarr, business executive, consultant, and investment manager, explain (1996) that

      “Just like a photographer, when we select a frame for a subject, we choose which aspect or portion of the subject we will focus on and which we will exclude. When we choose to highlight some aspect of our subject over others, we make it more noticeable, more meaningful, and more memorable to others. Our framing adds color or accentuates the subject in unique ways. For this reason, frames determine whether people notice problems, how they understand and remember problems, and how they evaluate and act upon them (Entman, 1993).
      Frames exert their power not only through what they highlight, but also through what they leave out. In framing, when we create a bias towards one interpretation of our subject, we exclude other aspects, including those that may produce opposite or alternative interpretations.”12

      Michael X. Delli Carpini (2005), professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the question of what role the news media should play in the framing process. He asks, “From whose perspective should the news be framed?”13 He concludes that the news media may have the responsibility to (1) give the public a greater role in setting the (political, social, and cultural) agenda, (2) cover issues and events in a way that is meaningful and useful to the general public, (3) give the public a greater voice in the ongoing conversation about public affairs, and (4) see the media “as a member of the community in which it operates, responsible not only for identifying problems, but also for helping find solutions to these problems.”14
      Marie Maclean (1991), a research fellow in the Department of French at Monash University who was an English-language translator of the work of French philosopher Gérard Genette, explains that the verbal frame of any spoken or written text is its “paratext,” a concept developed by Genette to describe the threshold or “undecided zone” between the inside and outside of a text, the transactional zone between speaker and listener, between author and reader. Paratexts may include the cover of a book, its title page, its table of contents, its preface, chapter titles, appendix, and index. They may also include recommendations on the cover of a book that introduce the text to the reader. Thus, they act as frames for, or thresholds of, interpretation that may guide the reader’s approach to the text. They may also define, highlight, and contrast with the text.


1Concise Oxford English Dictionary, edited by Angus Stevenson and Maurice Waite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 563.
2Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 10-11.
3Ibid., p. 345.
4Charles J. Fillmore, “Frame Semantics and the Nature of Language,” in Annals o the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 280, Issue 1, October 1976, p. 20.
5Ibid., p. 23.
6Robert M. Entman, “Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured paradigm,” in Journal of Communication (Volume 43, Issue 4, December 1, 1993), p. 52.
7George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004), p. xv.
8Concise Oxford English Dictionary, edited by Angus Stevenson and Maurice Waite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 563.
9Collins Web-linked Dictionary of Mathematics, by E.J. Borowski and J.M. Borwein (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 221.
10W.H. Bailey, Defining Edges: A New Look at Picture Frames (New York: Harry N. Adams, Inc. 2002), pp. 16-17.
11Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, Inc. 2018), online at
12Gail T. Fairhurst and Robert A. Sarr, The Art of Framing: Managing the Language of Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), p. 4.
13Michael X. Delli Carpini, “News From Somewhere: Journalism Frames and the Debate over “Public Journalism,” in Framing American Politics, edited by Karen Callaghan and Frauke Schnell (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), p. 11.
14Ibid., p. 14.


Marie Maclean, “Pretexts and Paratexts: The Art of the Peripheral,” in New Literary History, Vol. 22, No 2, 1991, pp. 273-279.

Gérard Genette, “Introduction to the Paratext,” translated by Marie Maclean, in New Literary History, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1991, pp. 261-272.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Annapolis Ten Mile Run, 2018

The Annapolis Ten Mile Run was held Sunday, August 19, 2018. The weather was warm and cloudy, with a temperature of about 75 degrees at start time (7:00 a.m.). The course was very hilly, with the start and finish in the parking lot at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. One of the longest uphill and downhill sections was along Naval Academy Bridge (over the Severn River), which we crossed eastward at mile 4 and westward at mile 8. The continuous hills along the course made it a very difficult run.
      The overall first place finisher in the men's division was Jeffrey Stein, from Washington, D.C., with a time of 54:29:01 (he also won in 2016, and was third in 2017), and the overall first place finisher in the women's division was Julia Roman-Duval, from Columbia, MD, with a time of 59:10:29 (she also won in 2017). In the youngest age group (14 and under), the winner in the boy's division was 12-year-old Billy Foulk, with a time of 1:17:17, and the winner in the girl's division was 14-year-old Haley Walker, with a time of 1:25:03. In the oldest age group (75 and older), the winner in the men's division was Harold Rosen, with a time of 1:37:50, and the winner in the women's division was Molly Sherwood, with a time of 1:58:31.
      Julia Roman-Duval, the overall women's first place finisher, is an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. She runs with the Howard County Striders, and competed at the women's Olympic Marathon trials in 2016, finishing 50th out of 206 runners.
      I finished in 439th place out of 2529 finishers at the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, in 4th place out of 59 in my age group, with a time of 1:25:15 (for a pace of 8:31.15 per mile). I was pleased with the results, since this was a better time than I did in June over a course that wasn't nearly as difficult as this one.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Two of Nagarjuna's Most Radical Suggestions

Nagarjuna (c. 150–c. 250 CE) was an Indian philosopher who founded the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism. His best-known work is the Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way). His other writings included the Yuktisastiki (Sixty Verses on Reasoning), and the Shunyatasaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness).
      His disciple Arydeva (c. 200-c. 250 CE) became a leader of the Madhyamika school. Arydeva’s best-known work was the Catuhshataka (Four Hundred Verses).
      In the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, Nagarjuna says that “whatever is dependently arisen is unceasing, unborn, unannihilated, impermanent, not coming, not going, without distinction, without identity, and free from conceptual construction.”1 Nothing arises without causes or conditions (of its existence). Everything depends on causes and conditions of arising (or existence), and therefore the ultimate reality of things is that no real distinctions can be made between them. Our attempt to make distinctions between things is based on our perception of their conventional, but not their ultimate reality. When we make distinctions between things, we act as if they had self-nature or self-existence. But the ultimate reality of things is that they are dependently arisen. Their arising depends on causes and conditions beyond themselves. Everything shares unbornness (a lack of self-nature), impermanence, a lack of self-identity, and a lack of inherent existence. Nothing is self-caused or self-existent. Everything is empty of self-nature, self-causation, and self-existence.
      Nagarjuna also says that if everything is empty, then there is no (self-)arising and no (self-)ceasing or passing away (Chapter XXV). Thus, he makes the radical suggestion that if everything is empty, then nirvana is just as empty as samsara, and there is no real difference between them. Nirvana is not something that can be “attained,” and not something that “arises.” It is also not something that is permanent or compounded, and it is not something that can be possessed or relinquished. It is not self-caused or inherently existent, and neither is samsara. Nirvana is neither (self-)existent nor (self-)non-existent, so those who abide in nirvana are likewise neither said to be (self- or inherently) existent nor (self- or inherently) nonexistent.
      Nagajuna also makes the radical suggestion that if everything is empty, then the Four Noble Truths are empty. The Four Noble Truths do not inherently exist, and neither does the Dharma (the teaching of the Buddha). Suffering does not inherently exist (it is not self-arisen or self-existent; its arising or existence depends on causes and condition beyond itself), and neither do arising or ceasing. To be able to truly recognize suffering, as well as its “arising,” its “cessation,” and “the path to its cessation,” we must be able to recognize dependent arising (Chapter XXIV).


1Nagarjuna, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, translated by Jay L. Garfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 2.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Baltimore Ceasefire Parade, Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Baltimore Ceasefire Parade took place from noon to 1 p.m. today on Park Heights Ave. This was the first Ceasefire event I've attended. It was very inspiring and uplifting. Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is a movement whose goal is to prevent murder and gun violence in Baltimore. This is the fifth Ceasefire weekend (the first took place in August 2017, and they've continued taking place every three months.) Among those who could be seen in the crowd at the corner of Park Heights and Belvedere prior to today's parade were Erricka Bridgeford, a Ceasefire organizer, and The Honorable Catherine Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore. The goal for this weekend was for there to be no murders or shootings in Baltimore from Friday, August 3rd thru Sunday, August 5th. (Tragically, two people were killed and five were injured in multiple shootings by the end of the weekend.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

James Baldwin, On Why We Must Define Ourselves, Rather than Be Defined by Others

(I apologize for having to include the N-word in the following reflection on the themes of shame, self-awareness, and social identity in James Baldwin’s writing and public speaking, but this term is the most accurate one, according to Baldwin, to describe the typical conception a white American has of an African American. According to Baldwin, African Americans have historically been seen and treated as inferiors by white Americans, who have often addressed them by using this racial epithet.)

      James Arthur Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, social critic, and civil rights activist. He was born August 2, 1924, in New York City. His mother, Emma Berdis Jones, married a preacher, David Baldwin, in 1927. James was the oldest of nine children. He never knew the name of his biological father, and he had a strained relationship with his stepfather. In 1938, he began to preach at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, but he renounced the ministry four years later when he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. He began his career as a writer, and his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953. It was nominated for the National Book Award. He left the United States in 1948, and settled in Paris. However, he returned to the United States in 1957, and was active in the American civil rights movement. He settled in Saint Paul de Vence, southern France, in 1970. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 63, on December 1, 1987, in Saint Paul de Vence.
      Baldwin’s writings include the novels Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Just Above My Head (1979). His plays include The Amen Corner (1954), and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964). His essay collections include Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work (1976), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and The Price of the Ticket (1985).
      In an interview with the oral historian, writer, and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel (1961), Baldwin describes working on his first novel and being unable to finish it:

“I finally realized that one of the reasons that I couldn’t finish the novel was that I was ashamed of where I came from and where I had been. I was ashamed of the life in the Negro church, ashamed of my father, ashamed of the Blues, ashamed of Jazz, and, of course, ashamed of watermelon; all of these stereotypes that the country inflicts on Negroes, that we all eat watermelon or we all do nothing but sing the Blues. Well, I was afraid of that; and I ran from it.”1

      It is this sense of shame that white people attempt to inflict on black people when they call them “niggers,” says Baldwin. But perhaps the white policeman will call the black man “nigger” once too often, and one of them will die.2
      Black people are therefore faced with the question, “If we’re going to be called “niggers,” then should we resist the notion of acting like “niggers”?” Perhaps we might as well act like “niggers,” even though we know we’re not “niggers,” and never were. But why should we act like something we aren't? And if white people are calling us "niggers" in order to keep us in our place, then maybe we should show them that we're not going to be kept in our place!
      A question that both white people and black people must also ask themselves is, “Why was it necessary for white people to call black people “niggers” in the first place?” What system of power and privilege was it necessary for this term to reinforce? What system of epistemic, social, and cultural values was it necessary for this term to support?
      Because black people know why (some) white people feel it necessary to call them “niggers”—it’s necessary for (some) white people, in order to help them maintain an unjust system of white power and privilege—black people know white people in a way that white people don’t know themselves (and know things about white people that they don’t know about themselves).
      Baldwin describes another kind of shame—not a shame associated with humiliation, but a shame associated with regret—when he writes of seeing a photograph of Dorothy Counts, one of the first black students admitted to Harry Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina in September 1957, showing her being taunted and harassed by white students.
        "That’s when I saw the photograph.
Facing us, on every newspaper kiosk
on that wide, tree-shaded boulevard in Paris
were photographs of fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts
being reviled and spat upon by the mob
as she was making her way to school
in Charlotte, North Carolina.

There was unutterable pride, tension, and anguish
in that girl’s face
as she approached the halls of learning
with history, jeering, at her back.

It made me furious,
it filled me with both hatred and pity.
And it made me ashamed.

Some one of us should have been there with her!3

      He recalls the sense of shame he was made to feel by his stepfather:

“My father said, during all the years I lived with him, that I was the ugliest boy he had ever seen, and I had absolutely no reason to doubt him. But it was not my father’s hatred of my frog-eyes which hurt me, this hatred proving, in time, to be rather more resounding than real: I have my mother’s eyes. When my father called me ugly, he was not attacking me so much as he was attacking my mother.”4

      He also recalls that as a boy, because he had been made to feel ugly, “I used to put pennies on my eyes to make them go back.”5 He was made to feel not only ugly, but queer and “strange.”6
      Baldwin says,

“In order for me to live, I decided very early that some mistake had been made somewhere. I was not a “nigger” even though you called me one. But if I was a “nigger” in your eyes, there was something about you—there was something you needed. I had to realize when I was very young that I was none of those things I was told I was…So where we are now is that a whole country of people believe I’m a “nigger,” and I don’t, and the battle’s on! Because if I am not what I’ve been told I am, then it means that you’re not what you thought you were either!”7

      In a film documentary entitled “Take This Hammer,” produced in 1963 by KQUED Public Television, Baldwin continues to explain why it's so important to be able to define one’s own sense of personal identity:

“What you say about somebody else, anybody else, reveals you. What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessity, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you, I’m describing me. And here in this country we’ve got something called “the nigger,” who doesn’t in such terms, I beg you to remark, exist in any other country in the world. We have invented “the nigger.” I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. I’ve always known—I had to know by the time I was 17 years old—what you were describing was not me, and what you were afraid of was not me. It had to be something else. You had invented it, so it had to be something you were afraid of, and you invested me with it. Now if that’s so, no matter what you’ve done to me, I can say to you this, and I mean it, I know you can’t do any more, and I got nothing to lose, and I know, and I’ve always known, you know, and really always, that’s part of the agony, I’ve always known that I’m not a nigger. But if I am not the nigger, and if it’s true that your invention reveals you, then who is the nigger? I’m not the victim here. I know one thing from another…I know a person is more important than anything else. Anything else. I’ve learned this because I had to learn it. But you still think, I gather, that “the nigger” is necessary. Well it’s unnecessary to me, so it must be necessary to you. So I’m going to give you your problem back. Your “nigger,” baby, isn’t me.”8

      He also explains in an interview with the poet Quincy Troupe in November 1987,

“I was not born to be what someone said I was. I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself, and myself only.”9
      For white people to try to dehumanize non-white people is for white people to dehumanize themselves, says Baldwin.10 When white people try to strip non-white people of their humanity, white people strip themselves of their own humanity.
      What is necessary now is not for black people to adjust themselves to the ways in which they have been seen and treated by white people, but for white people to adjust themselves to the fact that black people will no longer accept the unjust and shameful ways in which they've been seen and treated. Black people will no longer accept the demeaning and stereotypical conceptions of themselves that have been promoted by white people.
      White people must therefore find a way of living with black people in order to live with themselves. They must see that “the nigger” they attempt to make of every black person has nothing to do with who black people really are, but instead arises from white people's own need to establish or maintain some form of white supremacy.
      Just as black people must liberate themselves from the distorted conceptions of themselves promoted by white people, says Baldwin, white people must also liberate themselves from those same distorted conceptions. This is the only way for there to be a true understanding of the nature of racial relations in America.
      He describes the experience of twice seeing the movie The Defiant Ones (1958)—once with a white audience in downtown New York City, and once with a black audience in uptown New York City—and how differently the two audiences responded to the moment at which the escaped black prisoner, played by Sidney Poitier, gives up his own chance for freedom in order not to leave behind his fellow white prisoner, played by Tony Curtis:

“at the end of that movie when Sidney jumps off the train to rescue Tony Curtis…I saw it twice, deliberately, in New York. I saw it Downtown with a white liberal audience. There was a great sigh of relief and clapping: they felt that this was a noble gesture on the part of a very noble black man. And I suppose, in a way, it was.
      Then I saw it Uptown. When Sidney jumped off the train, there was a tremendous roar of fury from the audience, with which, I must say, I agreed. They told Sidney to “Get back on the train, you fool.” In any case, why in the world should he go back to the chain gang, when they were obviously going to be separated again: it’s still a Jim Crown chain gang.
      What’s the movie supposed to prove? What the movie is designed to prove, really, to white people, is that Negroes are going to forgive them for their crimes, and that somehow they are going to escape scot-free. Now, I am not being vengeful at all when I say this…because I’d hate to see the nightmare begin all over again, with shoes on the other foot. But I’m talking about a human fact. The human fact is this: that one cannot escape anything one has done. One has got to pay for it. You either pay for it willingly or pay for it unwillingly.”11

      Baldwin strikes a more hopeful note, however, in a televised interview with the psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark, entitled “The Negro and the American Promise” (1963):

“I can’t be a pessimist, because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”12


1James Baldwin, in “An Interview with James Baldwin,” by Studs Terkel, in Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), p. 4.
2Ibid., p. 18.
3Baldwin, in I Am Not Your Negro, compiled and edited by Raoul Peck (New York: Vintage International, 2017), p. 12.
4Baldwin, “No Name in the Street,” in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 501.
5Baldwin, “Disturber of the Peace: James Baldwin—An Interview,” by Eve Auchincloss and Nancy Lynch, in Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989), p. 79.
6Baldwin, “No Name in the Street," in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985, p. 502.
7Baldwin, “The Devil Finds Work,” in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 559.
8Baldwin, in ”Take This Hammer,” 1963, WNET, online at
9Baldwin, in The Last Interview: and other Conversations (Melville House, 2014).
10Baldwin, “Many Thousands Gone,” in Notes of a Native Son (New York: Bantam Books, 1955), p. 19.
11Ibid., pp. 11-12.
12Baldwin, in “The Negro and the American Promise,” 1963, WGBH Educational Foundation, online at