BALDWIN V. BUCKLEY

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Air date: 
Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:30am to 12:00pm
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The Radiozine continues to commemorate the birthday of James Baldwin with his portion of the 1965 debate with Willam F. Buckley at Cambridge University.

In the Atlantic Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote:

"I know a lot of conservative intellectuals hearken back to his day as a time when conservatism was untainted by the worst populist instincts. But while Baldwin is fairly serious, Buckley just seems to throwing out a series of one-liners. ("The problem in Mississippi isn't that too few Negroes can vote, it's that too many whites can" or some such.) What's more revealing to me is that his case against doing something about segregation, is basically the same case conservatives make today against doing anything that might alleviate black suffering -- black people through their lack of initiative and penchant for having kids out of wedlock are doing it to themselves."

On Oct. 26, 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley debated at the Cambridge Union debating society for and against the following motion: “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro.”

Each man was allotted 15 minutes to make his argument. Although both speakers exhibited rhetorical mastery, Baldwin, a writer and social critic, won the debate by a tremendous margin. Baldwin secured a standing ovation from the Union, a phenomenon that the narrating host claimed he “had not seen in the Union . . . in all the years [he had] known it.”

William F. Buckley, a popular conservative intellectual, argued that African-American communities were responsible for actively pursuing their own opportunities for societal advancement, which were available to all Americans on equal terms. According to Seneca Vaught, a historian at Kennesaw State University, Buckley failed to connect with his audience, despite his intent to “appeal to an imagined common Albion ancestry, and reason with descendants of a common cultural heritage.” Though this had been “a tactic that worked among conservative and segregationist audiences in the United States,” Vaught said it fell flat in Cambridge.

Part of Baldwin’s rhetorical genius, on the other hand, was his ability to transition forcefully between the second-person:

In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.

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