Filmmaker Karen Thorsen gave us James Baldwin: The Price of the
Ticket, the award-winning documentary that is now considered a
classic. First broadcast on PBS/American Masters in August, 1989—just
days after what would have been Baldwin’s 65th birthday—the film
premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990. It was not the film Thorsen
intended to make. Beginning in 1986, she and Baldwin had been collaborating on a
very different film project: a “nonfiction feature” about the
history, research, and writing of Baldwin’s next book, Remember
This House. It was also going to be a film about progress: how far
we had come, how far we still had to go, before we learned to trust our common
humanity. The following memoir explores how and why their collaboration began.
This recollection will be serialized in two parts, with the second installment
appearing in James Baldwin Review’s seventh issue, due
out in the fall of 2021.
This chapter develops a theory of domestication, which underpins the book’s approach to borders, family, empire, race and government. This begins with a unique reading of Jane Eyre, a key piece of nineteenth-century literature, and explores what the treatment of the character of Bertha Mason can tell us about family and empire. Domestication concerns the organisation of household rule and the push to domesticate untamed and uncivilised elements in the name of heteronormative capitalist order. Drawing from postcolonial, decolonial and black feminism, the chapter shows how the discovery of undomesticated populations was central to domesticating territory through imperialism. Historically, family has related to race just as much as it has to the more familiar inequalities of gender and sexuality. The chapter shows how the figure of Bertha Mason is dehumanised in Jane Eyre as an undomesticated presence within the English manor house. This works as an allegory for the contemporary racialised migrant and citizen.
Chapter 6 investigates how the promise of ‘inclusion’ also works to produce and shape borders. This explores how the ‘good’, familial or domesticated migrant is imagined. To do so, the chapter develops key debates on visuality to further understand how visuals (looking, imaging, being seen) are conditioned by colonial rule. Pushing forward recent work on borders and visuality, it shows how the colonial history of photography shapes border regimes in Britain such as in the hostile welcome of child refugees. In order to discover what the contemporary ‘good’ and ‘familial’ migrant looks like, the chapter explores how humanitarian approaches to the ‘refugee crisis’ in Britain and Europe have sought to photograph migrants in order to ‘humanise’ them. The ‘good’ migrant is imagined as a contributor, someone who brings ‘value’, happiness and heteronormative love into the (British) nation. The chapter shows how the politics of the included/domesticated migrant further justifies violence against ‘bad’ migrants and racialised citizens (the illegal, the terrorist, the unintegrated woman). It thus shows how humanitarianism and ‘compassionate nationalist’ projects of welcome continue to reproduce colonial hierarchies of whiteness.
James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Civil Rights
Born in New York City only fifteen months apart, the Harlem-raised James Baldwin
and the privileged William F. Buckley, Jr. could not have been more different,
but they both rose to the height of American intellectual life during the civil
rights movement. By the time they met in February 1965 to debate race and the
American Dream at the Cambridge Union, Buckley—a founding father of the
American conservative movement—was determined to sound the alarm about a
man he considered an “eloquent menace.” For his part, Baldwin
viewed Buckley as a deluded reactionary whose popularity revealed the sickness
of the American soul. The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted
Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against
Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.
In this article I introduce readers to the story at the heart of my new book
about Baldwin and Buckley, The Fire Is Upon Us.
This chapter introduces the main puzzle and themes of the book. It explores how borders and family connect in our contemporary moment before illustrating how this reveals the entanglements of empire. It discusses how intimacy and family are bordered and how this energises bordering. This establishes how the book is not only concerned with the violence done to family by borders, but also how claims to family can justify acts of bordering (for example, in the name of protecting ‘real’ family). It then sets out the main contribution of the book and how it relates to key debates in international politics, postcolonial feminist theory and migration studies. It also introduces key concepts and an overview of the archival and genealogical research approach underpinning the book.
Whilst the previous five chapters examine the adaption of colonial rule in Britain through family/borders, chapter 7 turns to practices of contestation and resistance. It draws from bell hooks’s provocation that ‘looking back’ was always/already a central strategy against racist subjugation historically and continues today – even in the face of insurmountable violence. Whilst focused primarily on visuality, this offers reflections on how various struggles contest the colonial politics of mobility, family, borders more broadly and how we can think this relationship differently. The chapter proposes three different ways of ‘looking back’: resistance, escape and decolonial aesthesis. Whilst all offer powerful challenges to the colonial power of borders and family, decolonial aesthesis, linked to a broader decolonial politics, offers important lessons for how we might think family and love other than with empire and colonial hierarchies of the human.
Drawing upon the theory of domestication outlined in chapter 1, chapter 2 traces the history of family and borders across the British Empire from the early nineteenth century. This demonstrates how family was central to the making of the Empire and how this was tied to mobility. This chapter develops debates in migration and border studies by showing how borders were a key device of colonial and imperial rule. It shows how bordering formed around the management of undomesticated movement – that which either ran counter to the expansion of the state, emergent imperial capitalism, or the racialised-sexualised order of the colonial administration. This chapter shows that what we come to know as immigration policy/law was experimented with in the control of movement across imperial space before being institutionalised in the British metropole from 1905. The chapter also explores how immigration and citizenship law worked to arrange and dismantle intimacies of people moving from (ex)colonies to Britain throughout the mid/late twentieth century. This shows how bordering emerged and continues as a colonial project within Britain.
Chapter 4 explores the significance of attempts to deprive criminals convicted of child sexual exploitation offences or ‘grooming’ of their citizenship. The case of grooming is used to explore where borders go, who they ‘stick’ to and what this tells us about the continuity of colonial hierarchies of race in Britain. Contributing to debates on race, masculinity and violence, this explores how monsters are created in contemporary Britain – in the figure of the ISIS terrorist, the street groomer, the gang member. The chapter examines how discovering monsters demands their eradication, such as in the form of deprivation, deportation and assassination. In the case of grooming, it is shown how this is made exceptional as a racial crime, one committed by dangerous ‘Asian’ and ‘Muslim men’ against ‘white girls’. Making certain people into monsters justifies the use of exceptional acts such as the deprivation of citizenship, which shape the treatment of all naturalised and racialised citizens. The chapter then shows how the state’s attempt to ‘protect’ white girls by depriving convicted criminals of their citizenship shares much in common with the far right/white nationalists’ appeals to protect the white family against deviant and perverse ‘invaders’.
A Session at the 2019 American Studies Association Conference
Magdalena J. Zaborowska, Nicholas F. Radel, Nigel Hatton, and Ernest L. Gibson III
“Rebranding James Baldwin and His Queer Others” was a session held
at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association in November 2019 in
Honolulu, Hawaii. The papers gathered here show how Baldwin’s writings
and life story participate in dialogues with other authors and artists who probe
issues of identity and identification, as well as with other types of texts and
non-American stories, boldly addressing theoretical and political perspectives
different from his own. Nick Radel’s temporal challenge to reading novels
on homoerotic male desire asks of us a leap of faith, one that makes it possible
to read race as not necessarily a synonym for “Black,” but as a
powerful historical and sexual trope that resists “over-easy”
binaries of Western masculinity. Ernest L. Gibson’s engagement with
Beauford Delaney’s brilliant art and the ways in which it enabled the
teenage Baldwin’s “dark rapture” of self-discovery as a
writer reminds us that “something [has been missing] in our discussions
of male relationships.” Finally, Nigel Hatton suggests “a
relationship among Baldwin, Denmark, and Giovanni’s Room
that adds another thread to the important scholarship on his groundbreaking work
of fiction that has impacted African-American literature, Cold War studies,
transnational American studies, feminist thought, and queer theory.” All
three essays enlarge our assessment of Baldwin’s contribution to
understanding the ways gender and sexuality always inflect racialized Western
masculinities. Thus, they help us work to better gauge the extent of
Baldwin’s influence right here and right now.
Chapter 3 demonstrates how the colonial politics of family and borders is adapted and resuscitated in contemporary Britain. It traces debates around sham marriage to explore how ideas of ‘genuine’ family and ‘subsisting’ relationships are coded with racial difference. In doing this, the chapter explores how colonial racism has adapted through the emergence of the ‘hostile environment’ and the Global War on Terror to make Muslim communities and other racialised populations a source of suspect intimacies. Appeals to modern liberal ‘love’ are used to present black, Asian and Muslim communities as ‘backwards’ and bound to underdeveloped forms of kinship (i.e. as undomesticated). Whilst existing studies of sham marriage focus on how borders and immigration policies work to exclude racialised migrants, this chapter analyses how border practices such as family migration visas connect up with the policing of settled communities. This is often arranged around attempts to save at-risk/risky ‘unintegrated’ women. Examples include forced marriages strategies, or in the move to monitor Muslim family patterns as part of the detection of radicalisation in the counter-terrorism programme Prevent. I call such interventions ‘intimate borders’.