James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965) 


This debate was moving and at times infuriating. The question of the night was, "Has the American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?" There were two speakers for both sides of the debate, four total, all of them were forgettable when compared to James Baldwin's response. 

Baldwin shook the audience with his words. The other speakers made light of the debate, throwing in jokes and jabs at Baldwin. The audience absorbed that attitude when they were speaking and would laugh, encouraging that behavior. When Baldwin spoke, he did so with such an air of seriousness and confidence, that everyone fell silent to focus on him. He spelled his life experiences out clearly, painting a firsthand picture for the audience of the struggles of the black community.

 He said that by a certain age he felt he had gone through "a certain kind of mill." This mill is comprised of his many negative interactions with white people over the years, in places he cannot avoid. This mill left him believing that others see him as worthless, despite his many successes. Baldwin didn't only consider his own experiences. Just after explaining the concept of his world view, he related it to his daughter. If a child is having problems that a parent is well versed in, that should be a good thing. Today, that could mean that the parent is able to offer an insider's perspective, giving their child tools to overcome the obstacles. But in Baldwin's case, the obstacle is his entire world and his daughter's entire world. Nobody has the ability to change that much alone. Of course, it's heartbreaking to watch your child suffer without an end in sight. This is a perspective I've never considered, and I'm certain others in the debate room hadn't considered it either. Any parent wouldn't want their child to go through such a mill. Baldwin made it easy for people to understand, even if they had entirely different backgrounds. 

Baldwin wasn't antagonizing, but he wasn't walking on eggshells either. He told stories that would've made a lot of the white people there feel uncomfortable. Forcing them to take stock of their memories, and hopefully question their own behavior. He made it clear that this is everyone's responsibility, and shed a light on times when we should've been more responsible. By the end, everyone was on their feet in admiration. The voice over guy said this was the first ever standing ovation. 

William F. Buckley spoke lastly and after Baldwin. Buckley was opposed to Baldwin, but he had no feasible argument after his airtight testimony. Buckley's rebuttal was beyond weak. Already he was trying to debate in favor of an outright ludicrous concept, but on top of that, he spent half of his time attacking Baldwin. He tried to discredit his arguments with personal ridicule. Not that he did in any way discredit him, nobody could have. I just found it infuriating how he strutted back and forth, making light of the importance of the topic. Buckley had no argument, so he resorted to childishness. 


I was very interested while watching this. It's dumbfounding to hear people actively support foundations of racism. I have of course learned about it my entire life, and continue to, but I don't think I've ever seen a video like this one before. I kept wondering what Baldwin was thinking during the other speaker's testimonies, and how the others could be so cavalier about it all. Especially after Baldwin spoke.