“Who’s the Nigger Now?”: Rhetoric and Identity in James Baldwin’s Revolution from Within

in James Baldwin Review

Despite the proliferation of interest in James Baldwin across popular culture and the academy, few, if any, critical studies of his public oratory have been conducted. This is unfortunate and ironic—unfortunate because Baldwin was a marvelous orator, and ironic in that his preferred solution to what ailed whites and blacks as the Civil Rights movement unfolded was thoroughly rhetorical. That is, Baldwin’s racial rhetorical revolution involved a re-valuing of the historical evidence used to keep blacks enslaved both mentally and physically across countless generations. Moreover, for Baldwin the act of naming functions to chain both whites and blacks to a version of American history psychologically damaging to both. Three speeches that Baldwin delivered in 1963 amid the crucible of civil rights protest illustrate these claims.

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