1963 RFK-James Baldwin Meeting VS Trump’s America
What a 1963 RFK-James Baldwin meeting teaches us about race in Trump’s America
“We’ve been living without truth for a long time.” —Michael Eric Dyson
In the spring of 1963, Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general of the United States, and James Baldwin, the great writer and novelist, met in a penthouse apartment in New York City.
It was supposed to be a friendly conversation about how to improve race relations in America, but it quickly devolved into a bitter fight. Baldwin, and the small group of black artists and intellectuals who joined him, thought Kennedy was ignorant of the black experience and suspected he was trying to exploit them for political gain.
Kennedy, for his part, thought his interlocutors didn’t understand politics or policy, and he walked away convinced that they refused to hear him out. In truth, Kennedy wasn’t prepared for the conversation, and he admitted as much after.
But this famous encounter, and the divisions that drove it, remains as relevant today as it was in 1963. That’s the argument Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist at Georgetown University, makes in his new book What Truth Sounds Like. For Dyson, the context has changed, but the issues, demands, and injustices haven’t, especially in the age of Donald Trump.