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Response to “A Report from Occupied Territory” by James Baldwin [Daniela Guichardo]

Posted by Daniela Guichardo on

In his essay “A Report from Occupied Territory,” James Baldwin examines the violence and discrimination Black folk faced in Harlem during the 1960s. He identifies various shared experiences and/or views among Harlem residents: They are taught the habit of inferiority from the segregation of schools. Black people are expected to respect the laws even though said laws are inherently anti-black. Being loathed for the color of their skin while being ripped away from the safety their homes offered. Exposed to false accusations and subjected to violent beatings. Harlem locals acknowledge that their current conditions are because the government consented to the destruction of the neighborhood. Baldwin recognizes that these circumstances – which could be considered as a culture/subculture – are not bound to Harlem, but rather to any city heavily populated with Black people.

If a fieldworker were to research the culture described, they would ask a multitude of questions. What conditions do Harlem residents live in? How do they interact amongst themselves versus outsiders? How do police officers treat Black suspects versus White suspects? What do they deem as moral/right? How do they approach achieving goals and/or dreams? A fieldworker looking into this culture would have to also have to investigate White life and culture to identify the disproportional differences Black people see themselves. The fieldworker would also have to acknowledge their cultural differences to truly resonate with the Black culture being studied. To further their findings, a fieldworker should talk to not only those in the community but also police officers. Baldwin mentioned how a real estate lobby was able to reorganize New York City, a fieldworker should talk to those lobbyists and see the thoughts and goals of their actions. When studying this particular culture, a fieldworker would have to talk with a wide range of people since many actions – inadvertently or not – affect the lives that Black people can live.

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