In Sonny’s Blues the and the autobiographical notes of James Baldwin found in the book show the racism of the time and how subtle it is and how it becomes a part of a person once it is introduced to them. In the auto biographical notes Baldwin says, “I was forced to admit something I had always hidden from myself, which the American Negro has had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress; that I hated and feared white people. This did not mean that I loved black people; on the contrary, I despised them, possibly because they failed to produce Rembrandt” (844).
In this one statement it brings about a clarity and understanding and mentality that is found throughout Sonny’s Blues. For a lack of better word the autobiographical notes gives insight into the black condition that Sonny and his brother embody. The first person of importance is not Sonny or his brother , it is the man that the brother meets as he is leaving school and going to the subway station. This man gives the reader the insight as to what Sonny had been going through for so long.
It does not seem that way but as you look a bit deeper into his mannerisms you see that he, himself is a drug addict just the same as Sonny was at that time. But for some reason you get this air that he felt that somehow he was better than Sonny. I guess that in some sense he was because he was not locked up in jail but I see this as the subtle but ever present racism popping up in the black community because of the “black condition”. This black condition is not a physical ailment (but it can bring about a physical ailment ie.
Sonny and the narrators father being beaten up by drunk white men) but a psychological one that is brought about by racism. This leads me to Sonny’s drug problem. This part of his life is solely a because of his environment but it is also a part that is purely human. Baldwin’s and most black Americans desire is to be seen as a human and not just a black person. Baldwin says, “I don’t like people who like me because I’m a Negro” (845) Through this pain that Sonny must go through he becomes just a man.
It is a harsh and most certainly a terrible way for this transformation to occur but Baldwin also says “…the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be help in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help was simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next…” (843). Baldwin has said that “In those days my mother was given to the exasperating and mysterious habit of having babies. As they were born, I took them over with one hand and held a book in the other” (841).
This statement alone was the most powerful statement about the Narrator of Sonny’s Blues. He saw the “trap” that was in a child taking care of a child and wanted no part. Much latter he realized the impact that that had on Sonny and begins to internalize Sonny’s problems as his own, something he could have prevented. Sonny had always had a penchant for the musical arts and he knew that he wanted to persue music but, every person in his life at the time told him that he would never amount to anything with music and that he could not do it.
I feel that the statement where Baldwin says. “I despised them, possibly because they failed to produce Rembrandt” speaks to this. He despised blacks not because of the color but the lack of nurture for the arts with their children, if it was not the bible it was of the world and thus of the devil. This lack of understanding and within a community was probably one of the most frustrating things for Baldwin because, how do you go against God ?
Collectively these situations discussed are the reason that the fear of white people exist but there are also the same reason that he is not in love with black people for Baldwin and Sonny. The true fear is that they will never be seen as equals to their white counterparts. There is a ceiling that kids in harlem bump their heads on and that they will never be able to go beyond or break the so called glass ceiling into a world where they are no longer black but human and in Baldwin’s case a “an honest man and good writer”