The Changing Nature of Racism

Examines James Baldwin’s 1943 work, Notes of a Native Son, and Spike Lee’s 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing”, to highlight how race relations have changed over time.

One way to look at the state of race relations and how they have changed in the United States is to consider how they have been presented in the past and more recently. This paper examines two in-depth looks at race relations in America, one created in 1943 and the second in 1989. The 1943 example is James Baldwin’s honest account of his experience as an African American living in a white society as he captures it in his essay, Notes of a Native Son. The 1989 example is the Spike Lee film, Do the Right Thing, where the reality of modern race relations is captured. To consider the state of race relations, then and now, these two works are first described. This is then followed by a consideration of race relations in each of the times, focusing on how race relations have changed over the years.
Another major difference between the two works is that there is more of an awareness of racial issues in Do the Right Thing. In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin is not initially aware that he will be treated any differently because he is African-American. He only reacts to the situation, when it is made clear to him that he is discriminated against. In Do the Right Thing, there is a greater aware of race issues before any discrimination occurs. This is most clearly seen when Buggin’ Out reacts to the wall of fame featuring famous Italian-Americans in Sal’s pizzeria. Sal is Italian-American, so his wall of fame can simply be seen as a tribute to his own heritage. However, Buggin’ Out sees it as a sign that Sal is a racist and reacts strongly to it. This reaction illustrates the underlying awareness of African Americans being discriminated against.