Posted by: sergius 05:13 pm EDT 10/02/22

You can watch this legendary debate on YouTube. And if you’ve never seen it you must. No need, however, to traipse over to the Public Theatre and see its incarnation there. The debate itself, formal and structured in a way that would be impossible to accomplish today, is cracking theatre but, deprived of a responsive audience—and close ups of Baldwin’s capacious, withering silence—it falls flat as reenactment. Baldwin’s rhetoric and his oratorical skills are ever astonishing but his intellectual ferocity is perhaps inimitable. The most interesting moments here come at the end in a brief discussion between Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry. She challenges the left to “stop being liberal and become radical Americans.” For his part, Baldwin, speaking of the acceptance and tolerance of whites for “negroes” and, implicitly, “homosexuals,” says baldly: “Who wants to be accepted into this?” Sixty years or so on, it’s still hard to argue with him.

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