Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

James Baldwin’s “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White”

Johnson, Terrence L.; Berlinblau, Jacques

James Baldwin’s landmark essay “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White” is alternatively nuanced and strident, exacting and scattershot, hopeful and fatalistic. It’s fairly prophetic too. As we mark the 55th anniversary of its publication let us acknowledge that, in spite of all the outrage (and confusion) the piece created, it was prescient in many ways.

Way back in April of 1967 Baldwin surmised that by being white, Jewish-Americans—even the many Jewish-Americans committed to social justice—were ensnared within a brutal system of what we now call “racial capitalism.” The economic asymmetries that the system engendered would, in Baldwin’s augury, doom the civil rights coalition that these minority groups had heroically forged. Too, these structural inequalities would corrode any authentic empathy Jews and Blacks may have felt for one another.