tv QA Monica Norton CSPAN February 17, 2019 11:00pm-12:01am EST
baldwin's "if beale street could mexico'sen undersecretary for trade talks talks about the u.s.-mexico-canada trade agreement. ♪ >> this week on "q&a," monica norton, deputy editor from the washington post talks about james baldwin's "if beale street could talk," and the impact the book had on her as a teenager. brian: monica norton of the "washington post," you wrote a column back in december with the headline i devoured james baldwin's "if beale street could talk," when i was 13. it changed my life. how? monica: up until then i was always an avid reader.
i had an older brother and two older sisters. i was reading their books when i was far too young. there was a wonderful public library in my neighborhood where i spent pretty much every day after school going there and grabbing every book. there was something about baldwin that was so raw and passionate. i think it had to do with me being 13. everything is passionate to you at that point. there were these two young lovers. i could identify with them and identify with the language and the beauty. brian: when you wrote the column you wrote you had not seen the movie. monica: i had not. brian: have you seen it now? monica: i have. i was impressed. i was really moved by it. i was probably too young to read baldwin at 13. brian: why are you saying that?
monica: i didn't understand that this was not simply a love story. there is romantic love. i did not really register -- i don't think i did at 13, the broader subjects of mass incarceration and how that impacts a family, community, society. i reread the book in advance of the movie coming out. it has been a long time since i was 13. it was a whole different experience. seeing it on screen, it was as beautiful as i remember and as heartbreaking as i would learn after rereading the book as an adult. brian: what is the story about? monica: i think it is the story of america in a lot of ways. you have these two young people who are working class, trying to make a go of it in a society that does not often recognize their value.
one of the main characters is wrongly charged with rape and incarcerated. the entire family is working to get him out of jail. we still see that happening in a so many cases today. what it means to be incarcerated for the entire family and for the society. brian: i want to run some video. it is about a minute. it is from 1960 in an interview. so everyone can see him and hear him talk. >> he was the architect really. certain effects, education will not make us different.
all things social, we can be as one. that was the idea of segregation, not only by the south. the south was supposed to provide the negroes with the facilities at the north did? >> education really began in the south and is still largely located there. there are more universities in the south. there are very few negro universities in the north. brian: the first thing you see is he is smoking. the second thing is the word negro. growing up, what was that? monica: i had an older brother and sisters, they were in college when i was in elementary school. it was the era of black is
beautiful. i remember them playing james brown and saying it loud, i am black and i am proud. that was the terminology that i grew up with. the exception was that in -- my parents were a little bit older. when i was born, my father was 45, my mother was 36. they were both from south carolina, very segregated society. my father was born during the depression and had hardships. i know the evolution of terms used to describe black people. he told me them and what he meant to him and how they impacted him. watching that video, you see the evolution of where we are today. i was black. that was the terminology used. brian: how much of james baldwin
-- and he wrote the novel we talked about in 1974. i have a whole list. how much did you read of him? monica: when i devoured that, i started on my education of james baldwin. i am not certain of the exact order but i think another country was the second book. it was one of my favorites i read of his. giovanni's room, and his essays, i think i read go tell it on the mountain twice. i think one was for an assignment in college. again, i wanted to read about this. any essay i could find. anything i could find of his. i'm excited because they are releasing a children's book he wrote for i think his nephew that will be released.
i will grab a copy of that as well. brian: you talk about you love words. what would you say is the theme of baldwin's writing? monica: i think his writing really does deal with love. whether it is universal love, loving one's self, love between people and society. i really think that is sort of the overarching theme. i think a lot of people see him -- because he was so passionate and fighting for the rights of african-americans. sometimes i think people mistake that for anger. i think he was not angry but forceful in his denunciation of racism. i don't have a problem with being angry, there were lots of things to be angry about. i think it was his passion because of his love for his people. that comes across in all of his interviews and writing. brian: he was born in 1924 and
died in 1987. what is the story of you going to see him? monica: in 1987, i had just started working. i was a young reporter for the evening sun in baltimore. i think it was baltimore city community college or something of that nature. i was so excited by this. it was during winter and i was planning to leave work and head across town. i was still living at home. my family lived in eastern baltimore county. this was in west baltimore, where he was speaking. i vaguely remember a close childhood friend saying it is snowing. you should try to get home. i said i am fine, i have something to do. i packed up my books and had them in the car beside me. the car was a 1978 fiat spider.
i had purchased it from one of my older sisters. it was probably a decade old when i purchased it from her. it had rearwheel drive. if you know anything about that, they do not function well in the snow. i was determined and i got in and i was trudging along. i should say i was inching along. i got to a point where i was probably 15-maybe 20 minutes away from where he was speaking. it was just so slow going through the snow. i started sliding. i started sliding towards this telephone pole. i stopped really short of it and i said you have to go home. this is ridiculous. you must go home. i turned around and i think a couple days later i am at work. there was a reporter there and he made it.
i remember him going on and on about their only being five or six of us. nobody could leave so he had a great time and told stories. i was heartbroken and then several months later he passed away. now if there somebody i want to see, i find a way to see them. brian: here he is in 1965 at the cambridge union society. he is debating a conservative. william f buckley. but you don't see him. here is james baldwin. >> the ex-attorney general, mr. robert kennedy said it was conceivable that in 40 years in america we might have a negro president. that sounded like a very emancipated statement, i suppose, to white people. i was in harlem when the statement was first heard.
from the point of view of a man in a harlem barber shop he only got here yesterday. now he is already on his way. -- on his way to the presidency. we have been here for 400 years. he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you are good, we may let you become president. brian: robert kennedy missed it by a few years. but, barack obama. what are you seeing there? monica: i see him calling out america for hypocrisy. i think that is what he tried to do and a lot of his work. whether it was about sex, race, how the government functions, i think that is what he was sort of pointing. how absurd is that, 40 years from that point, it is not as if there were not qualified african-americans before barack
obama who could have been president. there are always people who are more than qualified. the fact is that was not seen for a role for african-americans. i think he was very pointedly saying what do you mean by this. brian: what is your current job? monica: i am the deputy local editor for the "washington post." i help supervise our coverage of the region. we cover religion from around the country. we cover immigration around the country. it is a bit broader, but we cover around the world as well. brian: what evolves in your own head about the whole race issue in your life as you kept reading him and getting older and into the work world? monica: i think particularly i
am not sure at 13 i was fully aware. i think it was sort of reading him over time that i began to recognize -- reading him i saw myself really for the first time. it was not that i hadn't read other works by black authors. it was the first time i said i could have been that 19-year-old. i did not live in harlem. i did not have that set of circumstances that i could see myself. it was the first time i thought about writing. i thought this was magnificent writing and that i was there. when he wrote a scene that i was there. i felt their pain and aggravation, love, frustration. i thought this is what i would want to do. i think by reading him and by reading about black lives that were very similar to mine it made me aware of my role in america. brian: we need to take a look at
the trailer for the movie. the movie came out in december. you wrote about it then. it won some golden globe awards. when this was recorded the oscars have not happen. let's watch a little bit of the trailer so people who have not seen "if beale street could talk," could get a little flavor. ♪ >> you ready for this? ♪ >> i've never been more ready for anything in my whole life. ♪ >> i hope it's a boy. >> are you sure about that?
♪ >> you are not by yourself. ♪ brian: when we see the kids in the bathtub together -- when you saw the movie, how close was it to the novel? monica: very similar. the ending is different. i don't want to give anything away. the book does not sort of resolve what happens. pretty much, it sticks very closely to the book. i remember certain phrases and dialogue that really didn't
-- that do resonate that came straight from the books. brian: what is happened to the movies and black actors in your lifetime? monica: i remember being a kid and i remember when roots debuted on tv. i was in elementary school. we had the scholastic magazines used to come out and there is a special edition. it was the first time i had seen pretty much a majority black cast on television daily. i don't remember -- and there were other shows that i watched, comedies like the jeffersons. this was the first time i could recall drama. a story that resonated and told the story of america as well. since then, i memory was
-- i remember i was discussing i in college and i remember discussing spike lee's first movie. we were also excited by this. to get to the point where you have -- i thought the film was visually beautiful. the thing that really sticks with you is just how loving and lovely the film is, despite its deep, deep, deep heavy topics. brian: the main characters were twentysomething? monica: they were 19 and 22 if i am remembering correctly. brian: as i was researching james baldwin, these kind of things popped up. harlem, where he was born. self-hatred, scars of racism, homosexuality, how much of any
of that penetrated with you when you were reading him? monica: in the early days i was telling someone -- it may sound very sheltered. i think i was in college where i was reflecting back and i was like those characters were gay. it did not really resonate at that point. it was another love story and friction and attention in the book. it did not seem to resonate that this was about two men. it was not until i was much older that that registered. i think race was always there. particularly with one book because it took place in a church and i grew up in a black church. i didn't grow up in harlem but i grew up in a majority black
neighborhood. these were places that were reflective of what i was seeing around me. brian: what was your neighborhood? monica: i grew up in eastern baltimore county. it was probably 100% black when i was growing up. i think it has changed a little bit since then. it was working class. my father worked at bethlehem steel like a lot of men did. we had a diversity of people. one man across the street was an architect. a blue cross executive, a lunch lady, a teacher, a principal. it was a diversity. i have extraordinary fond memories of the kind of neighborhood where everybody sort of looked out for you. i was not going far, you would go around the block or ride your bike, if you did something wrong the neighbor would call your mom and tell. it was a close knit neighborhood.
it is sad to say because the way our lives have changed, i probably know one of my neighbors by name. i could have gone for 10 blocks and known everybody in my neighborhood. brian: how segregated was your early life and when did you have contact with white people? monica: from elementary school on. in the sense that my neighborhood was all black. the school i went to was in a neighborhood that was majority white. i was post integration so my siblings -- i remember my sister in 1967 i remember her talking about moving from an all-black school to a white school. for me, from kindergarten on, my classes were always integrated. frequently i was one of two or three black students. there was integration. i reflect now, one of my middle
school teachers recently passed away. i was telling my sister about going to the funeral and seeing other teachers. she said i didn't know you had all of those black teachers. i was fortunate. my elementary school, i personally did not have a black teacher. our vice principal was african-american. in middle school, i had several. let me correct myself, i did have a black teacher in fifth grade. in middle school i had a few more. there were people who looked like me and were looking out for students. my school was probably 65% or 70% majority white in that era. we sort of grew up together. brian: here's more james baldwin. he went to france, he died in france, lived most of his life in france. before i go to this, what do you think of that?
monica: he romanticized france for me. i had grown up reading about the harlem renaissance, langston hughes, james baldwin, their travels around the world and going to france. i have a vague recollection, he needed to leave america because he felt like he could not be himself. he felt he had to get away. in that era, i completely understand that you are in such a segregated society. even though we are sort of moving towards two separate societies again, it is not nearly as heinous as it was for him. brian: i am not going to use the clip i was going to. i will go to 1986 because it fits the conversation. he spoke at the national press club. james baldwin talking about why he moved to france. >> i went to france in 1948.
i was quite young. in other words, i was getting out of here. i did not so much go to paris as leave new york. the reason i left new york somebody would call me a name too often and somebody was going to die. i didn't know what would happen to me in paris but i knew what would happen to me here. brian: did you ever feel this way? monica: not that i wanted to leave america. it made me think about my parents. they were part of the big migration. they left south carolina in the late 50's. recently, i was talking to an older cousin of mine who said my grandfather was the one who sort
of pushed my father to leave. his older brother have come and did not like it. one of his sisters moved to new york and my grandfather, who i think died when i was an infant or so, he told my father you have to leave here, there is nothing here for you in this small town. my father who was remarkably -- a remarkable gentleman, i remember him telling me heinous tales about any hint of anger. he was always proud of how far african-americans had come in this country. knowing what he endured, i suspect he sort of felt a lot like baldwin did. he had to leave south carolina and come north to seek something better. i never felt the need to flee america other than for vacations
and to see the world. i have been to paris a couple times. i wanted to see where baldwin lived and i never got the chance to do it. after i wrote the piece i got a lovely note from a gentleman who had written a piece for the "new yorker" he spent some time with baldwin at his house in paris. he was describing it to me and sent me the link to the book review. he said if you are ever in paris. monica: i said be careful. i might show up on your doorstep. i feel very strongly that i am america. this is a nation of people from all around the world who came here -- whether they came here willingly or unwillingly, who
created this country. i frequently reflect on langston hughes' poem. i feel very strongly about that. i can't imagine fleeing. brian: one of the reasons -- when i read your column i understand this idea of books and the printed word. who got you interested? monica: i have always read. i don't remember a time not reading. i remember my dr. seuss alphabet book. i think part of it was my parents didn't have the same opportunities for education that i did. my father had to quit school when he was in the sixth grade to go to work. my mother got through high school but married my father when she was 19. so they didn't have the same opportunities for higher education. they were always avid readers. my mother read the newspaper
from cover to cover every day. growing up we got three newspapers in the household. i remember my father going off to work with a paperback in his back pocket. he was a huge proponent of encyclopedias. he always made sure we had encyclopedias in the house. he was like i bought you a set of encyclopedias, have you read them all? because my siblings were in college, i was grabbing books when they were not looking. when they moved out of the house when i was about 10, their books were there and i would frequently go and grab them. we had this public library that was in my mind, it was huge. i realize now it was probably very small. it was about three blocks from my household. i spent a lot of time going there. i remember getting off the bus and going straight to the library. this wonderful library in the library and would sometimes have a books waiting for me. i don't remember a time not reading.
brian: here is james baldwin in 1968 with a yale professor, they are discussing -- arguing. >> it does emphasize something which is here but it emphasize or exaggerates it. it puts people together in groups that they want to be in. i have more in common with a black scholar then i have with a white man who is against scholarship. you have more in common with a white author. why must we always concentrate on color, or religion? >> i will tell you this. when i left this country in 1948, i did so for one reason only. i didn't care where i landed. i might've gone to hong kong, i might have gone to timbuktu. i ended up in paris. nothing worse could happen to me
there then already happened to me here. you have to be able -- once you turn your back on the society, you may die. brian: reaction? monica: i think it is a nice sort of dream to have people talk about a colorblind society. but i don't think that is a reality. i think we have proven that. i think we all make assumptions based on color, gender, sexuality, and all of those things. i think that is what baldwin was alluding to. it does not matter whether or not i have 16 degrees or i am undereducated. the first thing someone sees about me is i am a black woman and they will make an assumption based on stereotypes they have grown up with. it does not matter whether he
says he might have more in common with an author. yes, i have more in common with an author, but if i am in an area where there aren't a lot of black people, they will see me first and foremost as a black woman, not as a journalist from the "washington post." brian: what is an awkward moment you could remember in your life where you thought the only thing they are looking at is my skin is black? monica: there were multiple episodes in the sense that i can remember being in school in both high school and college. i got an a and someone would say "oh." as if it was a surprise or shock. they would say you speak so well. i recall an incident when i was
in college. i took a women's studies class. there was a young black woman in the class. i think we were the only two black women in the class. she grew up in rhode island, not around a lot of black people. i would always say i would educator to the black world. she was sitting next to a woman who had returned to college. an older white woman. the woman asked her where she grew up, she was premed at the time. the woman said to her, where did you learn to speak english? she was like i am from rhode island. i looked at her and i was like welcome to my world. you sound shocked and surprised by that. i said most people are shocked and surprised. i cannot tell you the number of times as a young reporter that i would call someone on the phone and they did not know i was
black. i would show up at their house and they would be like hmm. older people would be like how did you get that job? there were many instances throughout my life where you tend to brush them off. ignore them until you cannot ignore them and then deal with them. brian: where did you get your university education? monica: i went to the university of maryland at college park. i studied journalism. i had fallen in love with the idea of being a writer. i told people i wanted to be james baldwin and i quickly realized i did not have that talent. i started working for my high school newspaper and i was very fortunate the baltimore sun had a minority scholarship. i started working at the "baltimore sun" after high school. i worked my way up through internships. i have worked at a number of papers since then. brian: why do you say you cannot write like james baldwin?
monica: there are few people who can write with that kind of eloquence and insight. i would like to think i could. i dream of someday being able to but i think there is only one james baldwin. brian: where would you put him in all of the people you have read in your lifetime? is he up there at the top? monica: it is one of those things where it is like choosing your favorite child in a sense. i don't know i could choose a favorite author. they each mean something different to me. at different points of my life. toni morrison is a goddess in my estimation. i am a huge margaret atwood fan. i love the poetry of langston hughes. i don't know that i could choose just one. baldwin was the one who sparked my love. brian: can you feel a difference when you are reading a white
author versus a black author? monica: that is a very challenging question. i feel the difference when i am reading someone -- i think i feel more the difference in socioeconomic. for instance, i think there is some insight when i am reading southern writers as opposed to those in the north. particularly those dealing with more rural areas and places that are more working class. i think i can pick them out when they are genuine. i think there is a difference. maybe that is cultural and what i am seeing. i can remember when angela's ashes came out. i was living in new york and reading it with my book club. it was majority white. people were sort of shocked by that type of poverty. this is the same thing my ancestors dealt with.
i remember my father talking about putting the sears catalog on the wall to keep the air out and getting an orange and sweet potato for christmas. that was not foreign to me. i think there are some cultural differences. brian: here's james baldwin on the way white people view black people and in turn the world. this was from the press club speech. >> the reason that is important and terrifying is because when the same white man looks around the world, he sees only what he wants to see. that is morally dangerous for
the future of this country. the world is full of all kinds of people who live beyond the signs of the american imagination. and who have never been able to do in the vision of the world that controls so much of our life and thinking and paralyzes very nearly our moral sense. monica: i think the rest of the world sees black stereotypes based on what we presented. i remember years ago reading a story about cubans in miami. one person saying he didn't realize he was black until he came to the united states. i think in talking to some cubans when i was there, they do
see color. there is a sort of a hierarchy there. i think people based their assumptions on the stereotype america has created. i think that's why there is this flight in certain places over blackface. you have the dolls that are very prominent in certain cultures. somewhere in asia, i can't recall exactly where but they had a commercial where a black person went into a washing machine and they came out with their skin clear. that didn't come in a vacuum. that came because of stereotypes that we had perpetuated for centuries in america.
brian: he used the n-word. however, back in 2016, they came out with a documentary about his life. in this case, they said i am not your negro. talk about the n-word versus negro any sensitivity. blacks using it and why it's not being able to use it. monica: it is not a word that i use and i will tell you why. my father used to tell the story and it used to anger me whenever he told it. he talked about being a young black man in south carolina. this would have been probably in the 40's or so. before he married my mother. he talked about hitchhiking from town to town to get work. he used to paint and do other small jobs.
someone picked him up and was gracious enough to let him sit in the front of the truck. he addressed him with the n-word the entire time. he said tell me about your life, and he kept saying it over and over again. that is how he referred to my father. i was horrified by this. i could never see using the word. i understand the argument about reclaiming it. i come from people who came from the deep south who were terrorized by the word. it is not a word i like to hear used. i understand the argument for reclaiming it. i will not dispute if someone wants to reclaim it but that is not my view. i know how it was used to terrorize people. brian: here is a trailer from the documentary. it is from 2016. >> if any white man in the world says give me liberty or give me death, the entire white world
applauds. when a black man does exactly the same thing, he is just a criminal and treated like one. everything is done to make a bad example. >> it is not a pretty story. >> that is really not the question. you don't know what's happening on the other side of the world, because you don't want to know. ♪ >> in america, i was only free in battle. >> we need to take any kind of action by any means necessary. >> may you don't need us, you're going to kill us all off. brian: what do you think james baldwin would think if you were around today? monica: there are many people
wishing he was around to get his take on how it seems we have devolved in a sense. we seem to have been moving forward. i think he would have chastise us for believing that we were moving forward. there was a lot of talk when obama was elected that we were sort of a post-racial world. i think a lot of people sort of turned their nose up at that. i think baldwin would have been the first one to say wait a second. this means absolutely nothing. we still have a lot of people who are judging folks based on the color of their skin. who still are not comfortable with and this truly equal society. i think you would be the first person to call us all out for hypocrisy in thinking -- not ignoring the strides we had made but thinking we had solved something that is really almost impossible to solve.
brian: what is it in your opinion about the color black and as you know, there are all different shades and colors. there is prejudice among the black race, what is that about? monica: they were pitted against each other. i think and i hope that there has been an evolution. i think there has been. we are at a point in society where folks realize that it does not matter so much -- how much melanin you have, if you have any it could make you a target. it could make you the focus of racism, prejudice, discrimination. i think that stems from the fact that they were pitted against each other and told everything from the beginning of time. not just in america.
you see it in india, asia, south america, where they are trying to ban bleaching creams. they were told to be fair skinned is beauty. that is around the world, with every sort of culture where they have been told. this is what is beautiful and everything that is not like that is not beautiful. brian: we can come back to james baldwin. i want to divert a moment. you have been involved in something that got an award on the "washington post," website called the four days in 1968. we will show some of this on the screen. what is this? monica: last year, this was the 50th anniversary of the rioting and uprisings that took place in washington, d.c. and around the country. following the assassination of martin luther king.
we wanted to embark on the project to tell the story behind sort of the rioting. to show the chaos that iraq did, and -- chaos that erupted, and the misinformation that was coming about during the rioting. to explain why the rioting happened. one of the things we found out when we first started to look into this was the post had done a remarkable job of remarking the anniversary every 10 years or so. they wrote a book, we did anniversaries on the 10th, 20th, 25th, 40th. we had interviewed a number of people. one of the things we wanted to do this year because it was the 50th anniversary. recognizing this is a totally different place than it was. it was majority black then. it is now just about split
evenly. there are a lot of people who live in the corridor where it happened who were not born and know nothing of the history and we wanted to explain to people, this place you are walking by now, this is what happened and this is why it happened. we were very fortunate that when we started this project we were contacted by a professor whose students had documented all of the places they received calls. not all of the calls were accurate. a lot of this was in the midst of a big news event, people call in and say there is a gunman here or there. most of it is not true. it showed the chaos that was occurring at that time. brian: when i came to town there were 800,000 people in the district. it slid down to 550,000, now it is at about 700,000, but it has
changed. monica: it is much younger, much whiter and wealthier for a certain segment of the population. other folks have been pushed aside and pushed out because of the rising cost. there is a tremendous amount of economic inequality. one of the things we wanted to show was the disparities that existed in 1968 exist today. there is still a huge gap in terms of economic disparity. one of the questions i asked when we first started this was could the rioting happen again. the same sort of problems that existed then exist now. there is a tremendous amount of frustration among people who have lived here for generations. all of a sudden, they cannot afford the home that their parents or grandparents owned.
our member a few years ago we did a story about a woman, she had a hair salon on rhode island avenue. she put up a sign as she was closing, forced out because of gentrification. there is a lot of tension. i said i don't think that same kind of rioting could occur again. i know the underlying tension still exists. brian: people can get online and see this. there is a little clip, clint hill, the famous secret service agent talks in your presentation about what it was like with lyndon johnson back then in the 1968 riots. >> the president then said i
want to see how much damage the rioters have done. the best place to do that is from the air. we arranged for him to fly on the helicopter over the city. i was on the helicopter. it was quite a sight to behold. it was unbelievable. a major portion of the city had burned. it was something i will never forget. brian: this happened after martin luther king was assassinated. did this work in any way? the rioting and looting? monica: one of the things i tell people. often when riots occur, they said why would they do this to their own neighborhood? i always say it is not their own neighborhood. they do not have any ownership of it because -- i am not justifying the burning or looting or anything like that. i understand the frustration. you look at a point at that time where there were stores that black people could not go in. if they went in they could not try on clothes. they are being charged higher prices. frustration built up. i tell people, they did not feel
ownership because they were being displaced then and there. i don't know that it worked in terms of looking at it in that sense except it brought attention to the inner cities. you got the reports that came out and showed just how unequal the school systems were. just how severe the housing crisis was. what kind of condition the people were living in. it brought attention to just how impoverished in both physical and emotional levels people were living in. brian: what are the different organizations you work for? monica: i work for the baltimore evening sun, then i work gannet newspapers. and i work for newsday on long island before i came to the post. brian: how did you get your job at the post? monica: i was at newsday in the
washington bureau by this point. they were consolidating the washington office. i figured i will have a job back in new york but i knew there was not going to be a role for me in washington. my father had passed away by then. my mother was getting older. i wasn't sure i wanted to go back to new york at that stage. i truly thought i might leave journalism because i was not sure there would be a world here. everyone in my office was calling the post except me. i got a call from them and they said would you come in for an interview. i said sure. i was kind of surprised by it. it was one of those things where i was at a crossroads in my life. i had just come off the 2004 election. i was kind of burnt out. i thought do i really want to do this? it is the washington post. you don't say no to them. it has been a great ride.
brian: this is another clip from his press club appearance. that is the latest thing we have from him in the 1986. he died one year later. here he is talking about the myth that white people have about themselves. >> this country is buried in the myth that white people have in themselves. these myths have to be excavated. they can only be excavated by white people. in other words, the history of this country better than whatever teachers trying to teach my child. you have to understand it to be liberated from it. most americans cling to the idea of being white because they don't want to find out what else they might be.
i have black-and-white ancestors and so do you. i am not trying to glorify black people or denigrate white people. i'm trying to point out that we are, whether we like it or not, connected. that should be our triumph and our glory, instead of our shame. monica: i think he is accurate. i think on a whole another level, i was having a discussion with someone and being considered the other in this country, whether hispanic or black, we are expected to know all of american history. including our own. whereas to be white, it is just assumed that it is white history in the sense the revolution. it does not include the role of african-americans. i think that is sort of the myth we were all created with. i am only half joking when i
tell people there is a part of me that wished black history month was something we looked at as american history. since it is part of america. i look back on my own education and i never learned about hispanics, or the role of the chinese or japanese. in the founding or creation of this country. it does a disservice to everyone. we get a week for -- i think hispanic heritage month as a whole month now. i did not have that. it is a universal thing to want to know your place in the world. i think because the dominant culture has always faulted -- defaulted to white america, everything else is sort of marginalized in the road took to create the united states.
brian: it was many years ago when you are on your way to meet james baldwin and you did not get there. if you had gotten there, what would you have wanted to ask him? monica: i don't know that i would've had the confidence to ask him anything. i was so in awe. i think i would have wanted to know his whole process and what his actual dream was. what did he hope to accomplish in writing these books? was it simply to tell the story of that particular story or was it something much larger he was trying to do in illustrating these lies? -- these lives? i think had i had the confidence, i'm not sure i would have, that is what i would have wanted to know. what was his ultimate goal? was it to reflect the beauty and
the levels and layers of the lives of african-americans and their role in the world? that's what i would like to think. brian: i don't want to ramble on but i have the first book "go tell it to the mountain." then there is giovanni's room. notes of the native son, nobody knows my name. another country as you mentioned, the fire next time in 1963, mr. charlie was the black term for white men. going to meet demand, and 1965. have you read all these? monica: i think i read everything except one. brian: "if beale street could talk," was 1974. the price of the ticket was 1985. which one of those books would you want somebody who wanted to
find out about james baldwin, which would you recommend? monica: i think his essays. i personally love the novels. i think his essays are so challenging to the story of america. it is the perfect place to start. they started off as a letter to his nephew. i think those are where you start. brian: has america given him the kind of attention and memory that they should? monica: i think the movie was a great way to start. i love the documentary. i think "if beale street could talk," is visually a beautiful film. i hope it brings more attention. one of the things i have been pleasantly surprised with since i wrote that piece, was my own
personal love letter i did not , think much of it. it was the number of people who have contacted me to tell me about reading baldwin themselves and what it meant to them. i'm hoping it sparks some resurgence. i hope more of his work becomes more widely known. brian: if someone wants to read -- reach you the same way they would online. what is the best way to find you at the post? monica norton wrote a piece back in december about james baldwin. we appreciate very much you talking with us today. thank you. monica: thank you.
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