Coping With Racial Prejudice
Racial prejudice is a recurring theme in James Baldwin’s early essays. In “Stranger in the Village” Baldwin gives us a view of the racial prejudices he encountered during his visit to a tiny Swiss village where he is the only black. He tells of his struggles (inner and outer) to be accepted into their world as more than an “exotic rarity”. African Americans of today, much like Baldwin in his time, have learned to accept and cope with racial prejudices because they are seen as an inevitable part of being black. However this coping mechanism that we have designed to help us assimilate into white America is just as destructive to our being as the prejudice itself.
“In so far as I reacted at all, I reacted by trying to be pleasant-it being a great part of the American Negro's education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people like him. This smile-and-the world-smiles-with-you routine worked about as well in this situation as it had in the situation for which it was designed, which is to say that it did not work at all. No one, after all, can be liked whose human weight and complexity cannot be, or has not been, admitted. My smile was simply another unheard-of phenomenon which allowed them to see my teeth-they did not, really, see my smile and I began to think that, should I take to snarling, no one would notice any difference.” 1 In this quote Baldwin feels so invisible to the townsfolk that he suggests if he changes his smile to a snarl they wouldn’t notice the difference. While he smiles on the outside, he is fuming with anger and rage toward these people on the inside… and yet, he makes an excuse for them and accepts this as his way of life like so many others before and after him has.
“I knew that they did not mean to be unkind, and I know it now; it is necessary, nevertheless, for me to repeat this to myself each time that I walk out of the chalet.”2
Baldwin further shows his inner disdain,...