In analysis of the two texts, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter From Harlem” and the first chapter of Malcolm X’s autobiography, the manners of African Americans in resisting injustice and gaining power is not overt. In many cases examples would only conjure implied definitions. What is more clearly seen is the differences between southern injustices in the manner of explicit “Jim Crow” like oppression and that of the Northern oppression of African Americans in the form of a covert, socially manipulated degradation. It is inherently conclusive that in addressing the manners of injustices the coping manners of African Americans are addressed as well. This leads into an ultimate analysis Civil Rights resistance techniques, in the north and the south, and a conclusion as to possible alternatives.
In examining “Jim Crow” law in the south in previous assignments and comparing its similarities and differences with the treatment of African Americans in the south, a quote comes to mind from “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter From Harlem.” “…It is not possible for anyone who has endured both to know which is ‘worse.’ I know Negroes who prefer the South and white Southerners [over white Northerns], because ‘at least there, you haven’t got to play any guessing games!’ ” (Baldwin 64). Irrevocably, author James Baldwin, explains how profound this is by quoting a man who says, “the spirit of the South is the spirit of America” (Baldwin 64). The manner of oppression here is implied as the difference between covert and overt.
Baldwin introduces us to his essay with a descriptive history of his neighborhood, a dilapidated project or as he states, “the turf” (Baldwin 55). This description of his home conjures a visual of the oppression that is embedded in Northern society. After “fighting on the right side of the Civil War” the North seemed to have acquired and left to waste the reaping of the fight, the Negro man (Baldwin 64). Baldwin describes the plight of the Northern Negro man as placed in projects, manipulated by their landlords, bereaved by a socially delineated status even when one attempted to join “the man” and work in the “white mans world” (Baldwin 57). The treatment of blacks by whites only creates a downwind spiral in which black “generations keep being born, [and] bitterness is increased by incompetence, pride and folly” (Baldwin 66).
In contrast to Baldwin’s essay, a look at the first chapter of Malcolm X’s autobiography reveals the environment in the South. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Malcolm X tells the story of overt oppression and terrorizing of his family by Klansmen. “[One night], a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home…Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out…[warning her] that we had better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my father’s ‘spreading trouble’ among the ‘good’ Negroes of Omaha with the ‘back to Africa’ preachings of Marcus Garvey” (Malcolm 1).
Here it the oppression of African Americans takes a much more vocal position that is also conducive to violent measures. Malcolm’s family soon moves to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here we find the discussion of the African Americans condition in the North, as discussed by Baldwin, explicitly stated in examples from Malcolm’s own life. After the death of his father, by what is claimed to be a suicide, but in all likelihood was the result of some white supremacists, Malcolm’s family is slowly torn apart by the Welfare system. His story invokes the same ideological resent towards blacks when he confers the stories of his “white [looking]” mother who lost jobs when her “white” employers found out she was really black, and the constant presence of the Welfare system in their lives. Malcolm conveys resentment similar to the “Negro man” found in Baldwin’s essay, saying, “…I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight” (Malcolm 22). This succinctly summarizes the purpose of Malcolm’s essay and development of Malcolm’s attitude toward this stratification of society as well as conveying the environment for African Americans in the North.
While not explicitly stated, resistance to these forms of oppression are limited in discussion within both Baldwin’s and Malcolm’s writings. Assimilation retained the status quo and resistance only resulted in the occasional “[drop of a match] in the powder keg and everything blows up” (Baldwin 63). Baldwin states in his essay that Northern oppression was “another, not-less-deadly variety” of Jim Crow (64).
In many ways this is stifling to the typical methods of the civil rights movement. Sit-ins and civil disobedience are not capable of revealing the manipulative tactics of a society that purported a new form of acting out racial prejudice. The “Negro man” is helpless in this circumstance, as his methods are launched as politically and culturally active statements. An alternative to these methods would be in changing the ideas of those who oppress. In the words of Baldwin, “the country will not change until it reexamines itself and discovers what it really means by freedom.”