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Racism is an issue that causes great pain among the victims. Those who practice racism tell the others that they are not of the same level. They believe that they are more superior, and this leads them to treat others in a demeaning manner. Most people who have had to suffer racist attacks are blacks, whether in America, or in other countries where they are the minority. The only thing that distinguishes them from the other people, and causes them much suffering is the color of their skin. Other races such as the Hispanic community in America have experienced some form of racism, although it is not to the same extent as racism experienced by blacks. In a “Stranger in the Village”, James Baldwin recounts his experiences in a Swiss village, where he was the only black man that the people had ever seen. He tells of the wonder and curiosity with which the people looked at him. He tells of the innocence of the children when interacting with him. He speaks of the role of religion, which had taught the people that the devil is black, and led the people to fear him, avoid him, and treat him with indifference. Baldwin has addressed the issue of racism in the story, noting how it continues to affect people negatively, although they are aware that it will happen.
Baldwin finds it hard to make friends and interact with other people on a social level, because of the racism he experiences. He states, “But I remain a stranger today as I was the first day I arrived” (315). He has stayed with the villagers for some time, and this is his second visit. All the villagers know him and know his name, but most of them do not take the effort of knowing him on a personal level. They do not take the opportunity of trying to find out more about him, and they seem content with their ignorance of him. He is hurt when the children shout to him in the streets calling him ‘neger’ a word he associates with pain and suffering. Although the villagers have never seen a black person before, they are aware of his existence. The bistro owner’s wife tells Baldwin concerning their practice of buying Africans and converting them to Christianity. The manner in which the people do this does nothing to suggest to them that Africans are just as human as the white people are, and they have the right to be different.
The physical characteristics of the black person puts him in a disadvantaged position, and makes him more endearing to racist insults and abuse. It was the physical characteristics, rather than anything else, that made the white men who visited Africa, to capture and forcibly take the black people from their homes and take them to foreign lands where they mistreated them and sold them as slaves. It was not the lack of education or lack of economic resources because other races lacked these, as well. Despite this, the white man did not dare treat these other races with the same hatred and hostility with which he treated the black people. Baldwin has to endure embarrassing and insulting situations from the villagers because of his physical characteristics. He tells of how the people rubbed his skin expecting the color to come off, or touched his hair, expecting an electric shock. “Some thought my hair was the color of tar, that it had the texture of wire, or the texture of cotton.” “…some daring creature was certain to…put his fingers on my hair, as though he were afraid of an electric shock, or put his hand on my hand, astonished that the color did not rub off” (316)
White people’s superiority enables them to treat blacks differently. They think that they are more superior to the black people. This idea was passed on from the days of slavery. The white man did not consider the civilization of others who were racially different from him. This idea of superiority among the white people enabled them to deny blacks their identity as human beings for a long time. It is the same idea that led the Swiss villagers to treat Baldwin differently, even though they had no prior experience living and working with blacks.
Many whites have changed their perceptions of race, and more people continue accepting the equality of all human beings irrespective of their race. However, some white people continue to think that they are in a more advantaged position because of the color of their skin. They continue to treat people badly because of their race.
Baldwin, James. A Stranger in the Village.