Last year, I took a course on existential philosophy, and until now, I’d never really questioned the practicality of what the great existentialists I had read about were trying to convey. The course largely centered around the idea of “Authenticity” and what it meant to different existentialists.
In its essence, the existentialist notion of authenticity claims that there is nothing that we already are that somehow guides what we should be. But what about race? Existentialists would argue that there is no ultimate objective for accepting such ground. If an existential crisis is defined as the anxiety that accompanies the feeling that there is no ultimate basis for accepting something that has so far been a fundamental ground for our behavior, can we then say that the very existence of a black man can lead to him suffering this predicament? Because, let’s face it, the black man in America is the epitome of a paradox – he lives in a place that seemingly admires his culture, but only in a form palatable to the white majority; a place which promises him liberty, but only in the form of a small window in the metaphorical jail cell that is his home. Who’s to say that the daily anguish felt by people of color is not the result of an ongoing existential crisis, caused by the existence of the very idea of race? For generations have come and gone, but the place of the black man in this society is still wretched. “Every Negro boy … realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a “thing”, a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is,” Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time. The few lucky ones go on to become college graduates and secure well-paying jobs, but for the majority of the black youth, the two most prominent roads to security were the Church and the streets – not much room for self-determination, is there? If race, despite its changing meanings, has been the only common factor in the situation of the black man, would its elimination reveal a different reality? One in which the black man is not only treated justly – i.e. like a human being – but is also appreciated for his contributions to society?
I don’t know. What do you guys think?