Racism in If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

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Racism is a type of discrimination that is based on a particular race and it is common among whites against blacks. The theory of racism states that the black skin is a minority to the white ones. James Baldwin is the author of if Beale Street could talk and he explores fundamental questions that are personal. Some of the concerns in Baldwin's book focus on psychological and social tensions of the blacks. It is common that blacks are forced to face racism from the whites, and they are negatively affected socially and psychologically. The story is known to place great emphasis on the importance of families that comprise of black people. The dominant society that focuses on the discrimination of the blacks is the African-American one, and this took place in 1974. James, therefore, shows a family can be powerful despite their troubles like the case of the river's family that is involved in the scene. This research paper focuses on discussing how James Baldwin's novel if Beale Street could talk abounds with criminal injustice system produced by racial discrimination between people. The best form of racial discrimination is seen where an Italian man harasses Tish and Fonny beats him up. The police officer handling the case, Mr. Bell, is a liar and a racist so he ends up accusing Fonny of starting the trouble in the Italian shop. Fonny is released after a lady in the shop says that it was the Italian who started the fight. Mr. Bell becomes resentful towards Fonny because he could not prove his case against himCITATION RCa08 \p ", pg 7" \l 1033 (Cantwell , pg 7).

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Literature Review

Racial discrimination is a practice of treating people differently from others either because of their skin or color. In the United States, African Americans suffer most from racial discrimination even though the vice was banned seventy years ago. The complexities of the level of racism existence in the society make it almost very difficult to evaluate its presence, with many white people claiming the blacks are also racism, and they are just playing a victim. While addressing racism, it also important to show how the current professional literature defines and explains racism. Racism occurs in all forms of life and can be whites against blacks, blacks against whites, Jews against Muslims or Muslims against Jews. Racial discrimination can be social, political, religious or economic. Social, racial discrimination occurs when people of a different skin color are refused services in restaurants or other social places. Religious discrimination occurs when people are discriminated because of their beliefs. Political and economic racial discrimination are closely related in that people of a certain race are discriminated against such that they remain poor, and some services that the government ought to provide do not do soCITATION MBu76 \p ", pg 8" \l 1033 (Burks and Baldwin , pg 8).

Racial discrimination is different from prejudice and stereotyping in that stereotyping is a type of belief that is held by a group of people concerning the characteristics of members of another different group of people. Prejudice is made up of negative cognitions of a group that is vented towards another minority group based on stereotyping that the group has towards that other group. This paper discusses and analyses the literature of racism. It discusses the definitions of racism against black people and mostly in Harlem, new York as well as its prejudice, types of racism that exist, and the level of racism in the society. The paper goes on to conclude that the novel touches a raw nerve by showing how racism exists in the United States, with black people being victimized and arrested because of their skin colorCITATION RMS09 \p ", pg 5" \l 1033 (Sellers and Shelton , pg 5).

Brief History of Racial Discrimination

Any discussion related to racism needs to examine the history of racism to understand it well and how people have struggled to try to eliminate it. The Existence of racism can be explained in three ways with the dominant one being that it is an irrational response to the differences caused by people with white skin hating on people with black skin and sometimes this hatred leading to violent and evil actions such harassment and fighting. Racism is said to have started the long time ago through slavery whereby black people where subjected to hard labor with no pay and sometimes they were denied food and water. The first evidence of racism was noticed in the 16th century when the slave trade started from Africa to America, being facilitated by the British. Most Africans Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries arrived as slaves after being kidnapped from their homes in various parts of Africa. Their white masters treated them badly where they are forced into Christianity, given new names, beaten, harassed and sometimes even killed by their white masters. The white population had large tracts of land hence needed cheap labor to maintain them. They turned to the black population to provide cheap labor because they referred to them as monkeys and hence saw that they did not require any political, social or economic rightsCITATION WWi87 \p ", pg 19" \l 1033 (Wilbanks , pg 19).

Analysis of Racism in the novel if Beale Street could talk

In the title, Beale Street refers to a street in Harlem New York where the two characters, Tish and Fonny live. The neighborhood is poor, and racism is rampant as the black people there are seen as a nuisance and criminals. The title "If Beale Street could talk" means that Fonny did not commit the rape hence if the street could talk, it would say the truth and Fonny would not have been taken to jailCITATION DWi09 \p ", pg 23" \l 1033 (Williams and Mohammed , pg 23).

Racism has affected the criminal system in a practice called petit apartheid which means the interactions between the police and the minorities, such as stop and question and stops and search law enforcement practices. In the novel, the effect of racism in the criminal system is seen in two instances; first, where an Italian man harasses Tish and Fonny beats him, Mr. Bell accuses Fonny of starting the trouble even though he did not have all the facts. Fonny is saved from going to jail by another woman in the store who says that the Italian is the one who started the fight and not Fonny. Later on, when a Puerto Rican woman is raped, she chooses Fonny because he is the only black person in that picture. Another friend of Fonny who helps them get an apartment, says that he was in jail for a crime he did not commit. These two scenarios shows the extent of racism in the criminal justice system.

Racism is also shown by how white people interact with black people. A good example is where the Italian man harasses Tish and Fonny beats him up. When the police officer Mr. Bell comes in, he takes sides with the white person instead of asking for evidence so that he can determine who started the fight. Racism in the novel is also seen in how people support only the people of their sides. When Mr. Bell comes to the Italian store, he sides with the Italian because he is white. Tish and Fonny's family come together to show solidarity by raising money to pay Fonny's lawyer handling the rape case.


Racial discrimination is rampant in the United States and not only in Harlem, New York, but also other parts of the country. Racial discrimination started in the 16th century whereby slaves were sold from Africa to America. African Americans were seen as a source of cheap labor. The novel shows well racism in the criminal justice system and how white police officers arrest and detain black people just because they are black. In the novel, black people are viewed as criminals and treated as suchCITATION WWi87 \p ", pg 16" \l 1033 (Wilbanks , pg 16).

Works Cited

BIBLIOGRAPHY \l 1033 Burks, M. and J. Baldwin. "James Baldwin's Protest Novel: If Beale Street Could Talk." Negro American literature forum (1976): 1-20.

Cantwell, R. "If Beale Street Could Talk: Music, Community, Culture." Negro American literature forum (2008): 10-30.

Sellers, R.M. and JN Shelton. "The role of racial identity in perceived racial discrimination ." Journal of personlity and social sciences (2009): 11-22.

Wilbanks, W. "The myth of a racist criminal justice system." ncjrs.gov (1987): 1-8.

Williams, D. and S. Mohammed. "Discrimination and racial disparities in health: evidence and needed research." Journal of behavioral medicine (2009): 20-40.

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