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leslie nikole
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ANOTHER COUNTRY - JAMES BALDWIN
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Another Country is the story that is born when a character leaves the stage. When Rufus leaves the lives of his friends and family, Another Country begins and keeps account of their lives. Rufus, a tormented jazz musician from Harlem, has a rough time with work, play, and love until it finally pushes him to the end. While his friends are shocked at Rufus' suicide, the show must go on.

James Baldwin is honestly my favourite writer because as one of my closest friends, Sumaya, put it "[he] wrote like hurt was etched on his skin." I've never read anyone who captured the tragic beauty of a silent wail when immense sadness is stuck in your throat. Baldwin is fair; he shows humans for what they are and how unfairly they treat not only each other, but themselves. As soon as you begin to root for one character, they turn around and do something awful to someone they're supposed to care about. Perfect diction and beautiful imagery, Another Country is definitely a classic whether you're reading it on a park bench in Harlem or on the beach in Havana.

Along with Go Tell It On The Mountain, I would love to see Another Country studied as well in school, especially for it's notes on racism. A lot of schools have kept books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn (which I refuse to actually read for fear of needing to be institutionalized with all of that horrible grammar) in their reading lists because of it's portrayal of race relations, but these novels haven't really shown the side that Baldwin particularly highlights with his Black characters and their interactions with White characters. I love, empathize, and see myself in Ida, Rufus' younger sister, who's quite realistic about how she's seen in her part of the world. Considering everything that's happened this year in April and May, it's very obvious that while we might be closer to a less racist world, we still have a long way to go before we reach that era.

This was in her eyes which never for an instant lost their wariness and which were always ready, within a split second, to turn black and lightless with contempt. Even when she was being friendly there was something in her manner, in her voice, which carried a warning; she was always waiting for the veiled insult or the lewd suggestion. And she had good reason for it, she was not being fantastical or perverse. It was the way the world treated girls with bad reputations and every colored girl had been born with one.

I'd hate to say that I walk around with that embedded at the back of my head, but I do. If you watch Scandal and were around the blogosphere post-Papa Pope read about Olivia having to work twice as hard for half the recognition, or got that speech in some way or another yourself, then you get what I mean. This is not a post-racial world. People are still surprised for a second when I tell them my name is Leslie Nikole, or when they see my full name on cover letters and resumes. I used to joke about it when I was in high school with a friend named Krystal, that our parents gave us such easy "normal" (read: European) names so that we could get callbacks for jobs easily. We were like fourteen making this joke, not knowing that there was a racial profiling case going on in the government for only calling back people with more French-Québécois names. Call me oversensitive, but I'd rather be that and weary of setups built against me, then think that everything in the world is for and behind me. The province I live in tried to get a law passed that would allow them to ban the wearing of religious symbols or attire in the public working sector, and although it didn't go through, that goes to show you that in 2014 acceptance and "tolerance" is not everywhere. I might not wear any religious symbols or attire, but if that human right is gone (since most, if not all symbols and attire are not actively for inflicting abuse on others), is there not room for racism next?

No matter how much I could try to get away from it, I'm always going to be a first-generation born to a working class immigrant couple from the Anglophone Caribbean. I'm always going to be Black. I'm always going to be female. Those identities, although hopefully not forever, carry certain stereotypes and a difficult history that I'm going to carry for a long time. That is what Baldwin does with Ida. Baldwin, a Black male Harlemite in the late 1950's, uses Ida as a vessel for acknowledgement. While the popular wave in the Black community was to keep the women away from the front lines, Baldwin writes Ida as strong, persevering, aware, and cautious. She does not need to be coddled by anyone and let's down her guard frequently. Many might argue that her conversations with Vivaldo, Rufus's best friend and Ida's boyfriend, who is White (of Irish descent), are hostile while not realizing how honest she is being. Ida's commentary on the world's perception of interracial couples at the time is brutally real, a subject she reaffirms with Vivaldo on numerous occasions while everyone else tiptoes around the issue. In my opinion, that is what letting your guard down really is – going against the grain and speaking on the taboo subject of race that everyone around Ida seems to think has no place in the problem. Baldwin knows what's up and uses Ida throughout the entire novel as a pre-pre-example of misogynoir, due to battles of not only racism but sexism as well.

You don’t know, and there’s no way in the world for you to find out, what it’s like to be a black girl in this world, and the way white men, and black men, too, baby, treat you.

I can't find the image, but it's a capture of a banner begin proudly hung at what I'm guessing was a Five-Percenter Nation of Islam meeting. It read something along the lines of "protect women our most precious property". I'm a little iffy on the use of property, or if the banner said jewel, but the point I'm trying to make is that there is ownership in that statement. When Ida notes "the way white men" treat her to Vivaldo, he already knows she's talking about the sexual abuse perpetrated by White men upon Black women aided by the stereotype of Black Jezebels that are constantly available for not just sex, but the kind of "wild sex" White women would not engage in. When Ida then follows up with "and black men, too", here opens the lid on a can that's been needing to breathe forever. At one of Ida's performances, one of the band players, a Black man, leers at her and makes an offensive and sexually suggestive comment. The other men in the band, also Black, laugh along with the joke. When Ida is out in Harlem with Vivaldo, Black men on the street look at her with disgust. I love Baldwin for this, especially following an encounter with harassment on the subway. Ida allows herself to love men, both Black and White, but doesn't pretend that it changes everyone. Ida breaks the stereotype of submissive church girl and doesn't stick to being a homebody, so automatically in the Black community she's perceived to be what in general the White (male) population figure her to be. On one side she's tearing apart the Black family and figuring she's "too good for a Black man", but on the other side she's a tempting prostitute that would be a stain on Vivaldo's family tree. That's the life Ida is living, all while recently losing her brother. As Rufus dies, Ida steps out into an unforgiving world with her head held high, and this is the ideal bravery I wish I could see in more female characters. Thank you James Baldwin for that.



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