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Notes of a native son: the world according to James Baldwin - Christina Greer

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In the 1960s, the FBI amassed almost 2,000 documents in an investigation into one of America’s most celebrated minds. The subject of this inquiry was a writer named James Baldwin, one of the best-selling black authors in the world at the time. What made him loom so large in the imaginations of both the public and the authorities? Christina Greer explores the life and works of James Baldwin.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Christina Greer
  • Director Jérémie Balais, Jeffig Le Bars
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Animator Jérémie Balais, Jeffig Le Bars
  • Sound Designer Raphaël Pibarot
  • Composer Johan Putet
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-checker Joseph Isaac
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Racism in America was rampant during Baldwin’s lifetime and the injustices he witnessed were fuel for his detailed analysis of the arresting portrait of racial strife in which he held white America accountable, but he also went further, arguing that racism hurt white people too.

If you read the various novels written by Baldwin or watch his debates and speeches, you will discover a man who has thought deeply about his placement in the country of his birth, but also as a Black American man living abroad and analyzing his country from afar.

If James Baldwin were alive today, what do you think his primary agenda would be? Do you think he would choose to leave the country permanently during this political climate? Overt racism is not the same today as it was during Baldwin’s lifetime. However, what other systems, institutions, and practices are currently being used to maintain the racial oppressions Baldwin famously wrote about?

Many people do not see racism as an ill that effects individuals and groups, both in the United States and abroad. Because inequality has taken many different forms since the time period in which Baldwin wrote, some people do not see racism, homophobia, and inequality as major concerns of today.

Indeed, race relations in America have gotten better (or at least evolved). Although the types of racism are not as prevalent as they once were, there are still much more work to be done to provide racial and economic equality. Why do you think so many refuse to recognize racial inequality as a major problem in American society? Baldwin witnessed his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, ad Dr Martin Luther King be assassinated for speaking out against racism and inequality. Why do you think Baldwin had the courage to write and speak about these issues during a time when it was dangerous to do so? Do you think you would have had the courage of James Baldwin if you lived during his time?

Have a conversation with someone of a different race, gender, sexuality, or age. What has been their experience living in the U.S.? What were the experiences of their parents or grandparents? Do you know other people who have read the writing of James Baldwin? Do they know about the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States?

Imagine you were James Baldwin. What would you change about racial and sexual orientation discrimination? How would you ensure that all Americans are given equal treatment for generations to come?

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Christina Greer
  • Director Jérémie Balais, Jeffig Le Bars
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Animator Jérémie Balais, Jeffig Le Bars
  • Sound Designer Raphaël Pibarot
  • Composer Johan Putet
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-checker Joseph Isaac