A Report from Occupied Territory, A Feild Worker’s Response

James Baldwin’s essay highlights the injustices and discrimination in the late ’60s that are still very much present in today’s environment in 2020. Police brutality has not magically been erased, in fact reading this essay has given me a deeper understanding as to why people have certain attitudes toward the police. Baldwin compares the common up-town New York block as an “occupied territory” in order to compare racist policing to America’s trend of occupying foreign land in the name of colonization and imperialism. The fear and silencing of people of color fuel these unjust power structures of white America. Baldwin recognizes that in order for people to comprehend change, people need to know what in the system has to change; so he uses descriptive language to explain the Negro experience: “the government which can force me to pay my taxes and force me to fight in its defense anywhere in the world does not have the authority to say that it cannot protect my right to vote or my right to earn a living or my right to live anywhere I choose.” Baldwin presents two stories, one about the Harlem Six and another about another senseless common arrest of innocent citizens of color near a fruit stand in Harlem. These two stories are interchangeably the broken record of stories that define melanin as “criminal.” Baldwin incentivizes his audience to consider future generations and their treatment in society. His solution for a stable and safe environment for communities of color all over the states to put pressure on legislators and the government to make it a priority to protect everyone equally. He writes, “The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.” I found this statement very powerful and blunt. As a fieldworker, Baldwin uses similar strategies that I would consider using in order to penetrate the insider perspective through interviews of police, politicians, and citizens.

My questions as a fieldworker to further uncover the culture the article describes would be:

  1. How is the treatment of blacks in society addressed in education and the school environment?
  2. What’s the difference between a “good” nigger and a “bad” one in the eyes of the law? Is there even a difference? What about in the eyes of a black American?
  3. What are the socioeconomic factors at the workplace elevating black families or failing them?

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Milton Isaiah Rivera
    I really enjoyed reading your response! It brings to light that things in the past can be seen in the present. I especially liked the second question you asked because it exposes the fact that everything is based on perspective; it reminds me of the book, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, where Coates talks about police brutality. He specifically touches on the subject of the Age of Ferguson in where black daughters and sons are mistreated despite their age, and their parents have to talk to them about police brutality and how to keep yourself safe in the streets/malls/etc. Yet despite all this a black person is still vulnerable to the attacks of cops or whoever holds racial prejudices.
  2. Elizabeth Cayetano
    I'm glad that you made a connection between what Baldwin was describing and what is happening in today's society. Racism is so deep-rooted in America's system that it is still an issue that keeps on happening way more often than we'd like to admit. This type of oppression is also seen with the NYPD practically harassing people, especially those in low-income areas, to pay their $2.75 MTA fare.
  3. Sara Sanchez
    What I appreciate about your post is how you connected it to the racism that is present in today's society, as I witness and know that we still live in a world that is strongly racist and one where police can abuse their power against minority groups. I also liked how in your second fieldworker question you asked if there is even a difference between being "good" and "bad" according to the law, as it deeply questions the police and their respect-or lack of-towards the citizens they're sworn to protect.

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