The Dungeon Shook
The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off
The Dungeon Shook, is an essay by James Baldwin in his novel, The Fire Next Time. Here, Baldwin writes a letter to his young nephew, also named James, on the 100th anniversary of the emancipation.
Released in the 1960s, during the civil rights movemement, this essay broke ground as one of the first chronicles of the life of an African-America man.
Baldwin starts off by writing about his brother, his nephew’s father, and seeing him grow up as an infant, then into a man. He witnessed how white America destroyed his brother from the inside. And how you can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the “white world calls a nigger”.
Baldwin then goes into detail on this.
You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry…The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you.
Yet, despite all the injustices, Baldwin urges his nephew to accept them and accept them with love.
For these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.
This history that Baldwin talks about is racist idealogy that has perpetuated in America for generations, the belief that the black man is inferior to the white man.
Baldwin ends off on this note.
We cannot be free until they are free.
Even as an Asian male, it is my duty, and everyone else’s duty to understand the history and love and accept everyone.
Only then we will have a society that is truly free.