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Jimmy Is Everywhere: On James Baldwin's FBI File (the-tls.co.uk)
64 points by samclemens 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments



"I am Not Your Negro" is a fantastic documentary about Baldwin.

In that documentary, filmed in 1960's, the same questions were asked that are often asked today. William Buckley asks Baldwin, "Why are negros so upset ? You are on TV commercials, movie leads, you hold positions in government. Isn't racism in the past."

That was before I was born. But in my lifetime the Tuskegee medical experiments were still being performed on black men. I witnessed a landlord ask my parents to pretend they were taking an apartment so that the blacks in the waiting area could be told it is no longer available. I had a young detective in Chicago privately disclose to me that as a cop he would just followed black people (if there were more than one in the car because the odds one of them might have a warrant would be higher) in his cop car until they committed a traffic violation. He used racial profiling so effectively that he became one of youngest detectives of all time.

In my college years the US government was selling highly addictive and destructive drugs in African American neighborhoods as a covert way to raise funds. But when that story broke it was pushed off the headlines because the Monica Lewinsky scandal was more important. The reporter who broke the story was so disheartened he killed himself.

And in just the past years we have seen too many snuff films and needless deaths.

Yet I still personally encounter people who claim African Americans haven't experienced racism in 100 years. And what are they complaining about, "they seem to be in most commercials these days and hold high positions in government, so racism must be in the past". Because why bother learning what the Black Lives Matter movement stood for when you can just snark "all lives matter". But if you were snark "Pro-life ? You mean you are a vegetarian ?", some of those same people would be so annoyed they would burn down an abortion clinic. But black people burning something, that anger they can't understand.

Will the U.S. ever come to terms with our racist past ? Will our future grandchildren be ruminating on these issues simply because many people keep casually dismissing the suffering of others.

As a side note, I am conflicted if general interest stories like this should be on HN as they are too emotionally charged.


>Will the U.S. ever come to terms with our racist past ? Will our future grandchildren be ruminating on these issues simply because many people keep casually dismissing the suffering of others.

The suffering of the marginalized members in a society seems like it remains pragmatic goal of the the powerful all over the world to maintain influence and control of their local ant hill… I've seen it in the US, and I see it here in Indonesia… there just seems like a never ending supply of people willing to yield to such thinking/ideas as solutions to their personal ails/insecurities/fears, so long as they can keep their relatively comfortable status quo. When that can be overcome, then I think we as people can do more than improving slowly over generations.

>As a side note, I am conflicted if general interest stories like this should be on HN as they are too emotionally charged.

I think this piece speaks to things than just being and emotionally charged interest story.

"If Hoover’s intention had been to demoralize a “dangerous individual” with subversive potential, driving him by hook or by crook from the battleground, then he could claim to have had some success."

"The consciousness of surveillance distorted the arc of their careers, those of Baldwin and Wright in particular. It tainted the atmosphere of everyday existence – nothing more, or less, than the intimate feeling of waking up in private each day as who you are, without interference."

I mean, there must be something here of interest to HN technically about the dis/similarity just with the aspects (and forms) of surveillance then and today (and it's utility to those in power in the world), and how their influences may differ?


There's something about the topic of institutional racism that cuts white people very deep. We simply aren't comfortable discussing it, even in a polite way.

You're right that stories like this and comments like yours don't lead to enlightened discussion on HN, but they are necessary. Racism doesn't just hurt black people; it hurts white people, too - not in the sense that white people are targeted, but in the sense that it lulls us into a false sense of social stability and desensitizes us to the human cruelty embedded in that stability. It conditions us to accept that cruelty as just part of some natural equation of society. So IMO anything we can do to combat it is admirable, even just as small as just discussing it and therefore acknowledging that it's a problem.


> As a side note, I am conflicted if general interest stories like this should be on HN as they are too emotionally charged.

Of course this is relevant. The issues James Baldwin wrote about are still issues today, and tech companies are not free from blame.

https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-advertising-disc...

https://www.npr.org/2017/03/02/518087610/new-research-looks-...

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-31/study-fin...

HN needs stories like these, and comments like yours.


> The reporter who broke the story was so disheartened he killed himself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb


Nothing suspicious sounding about that.


'Multiple gun shot suicide'

Indeed.


Dick Fuld shot himself twice in the heart and still wasn’t able to kill himself.


If anyone’s interested in buying it, I can attest that the book in question is a fantastic coffee table tome.

It’s very striking, reading the file in 2018, how various things which are basically political suppression and harassment are all lumped in under “national security” by FBI men writing reports at type writers.

I have no idea why, but I assumed this kind of thing would at least have a different euphemism!


One the most impactful statements on race that I've ever encountered. That led me on a multi-day bender watching all of Baldwin's talks and speeches on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0L5fciA6AU


I read Ta-Nehisi_Coates' "Between the World and Me" right after Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time" and felt such shame that so little has changed in America between the two.

I felt like I read the same book twice.


We are all Jimmy now.


>The new edition of Talking at the Gates contained an afterword which detailed the contents of the file the FBI opened on Baldwin in 1961 and maintained until 1974. In December 1963, his name was added to the Security Index, a list of people to be sought and detained in the event of a state of emergency.

>Baldwin’s own telephone was never tapped, as far as the record shows, though there are Bureau records of his conversations with people whose phones were. In 1967 he was made the subject of an F#1 Stop Notice, or “lookout”, so that his arrival at US airports was reported. In this instance, it was by means of a telephone call as he collected his luggage from the carousel

>In the mid-1960s, Baldwin was semi-resident in Istanbul. The FBI tracked his movements there, took note of his eviction from an apartment for “homosexual activities”, and of his intention to form an artistic association with the Turkish novelist Yashar Kemal and the actor Engin Cezzar. An interview from a Turkish newspaper was translated and sent to Washington with two sentences emphasized: “Baldwin had settled in Istanbul in March of 1966” and “After finishing his book the author will return to America”. Statements he made in the American press on Civil Rights affairs while in Turkey or in France were clipped and filed.

>It includes scattered reports on Baldwin’s movements around the world, records of “pretext phone calls” made by agents for the purposes of soliciting information by deceit (posing as an “auto salesman” or a “member of a peace organization”, among other things), snoopers’ accounts of public meetings and private encounters, articles by and about Baldwin clipped from press sources, as well as oddities such as letters of complaint about his books or media statements, written to Hoover by concerned citizens.

Really? This is all of us now? Sounds to me like they really targeted this guy.


Maybe alluding to that "they" have much more intelligence on each and every one of us by default, than they got from a targeted guy back then.


I understand that was the intention, but we aren't all being specifically targeted by the FBI. If they can collect as much information on us without specifically targeting us, imagine if they did target you?




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