First, you are to read James Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew.” It might be wise to read it multiple times. Pay attention to Baldwin’s statements, his disposition, his mention of historical events, the references to social facts of race, and his overall literary brilliance. Baldwin addresses many things in his letter but the central theme is racism, its terrible history, and a clarion call to participate in building a nation that America must become.
Second, you are to write your own letter to your nephew. If you would rather to write to someone else, you can instead write a letter to your niece, little brother, sister, or godchild/sibling.
The main aim is to essentially write to someone who is significantly younger than you, likely younger than 5 years old. You should temporarily suspend the firm sociological terminology you have learned but you, however, cannot and should not forget the personal biography aspect of the sociological imagination in this assignment. For instance, Baldwin writes, “This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish.” There is no dense sociological language in this sentence, however, what this sentence does illuminate is racial segregation, discriminatory housing policies, and structural inequalities that shorten the lifespan and life opportunities of Black people.
What would you say to your nephew (or niece, sister, brother, godchild) about the generations of racism that has shaped your parents’ parents? What will you say about your own racialized life and livelihood? What will you say about the contemporary state of race and ethnic relations to the recipient? Will you cast doubt about a peaceful, progressive future? Will you write words of persistence and resistance? Will you write that love will end racism or will you write that you and your people are trapped in an inescapable nightmare? You do not have to address all of these questions but these questions serve as a guide for what to talk about.
More than it is my hope, it should be your wish to actually give this letter to the person following behind you — now or in the future.
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