In Search of a Majority

Author

Baldwin, James

Genre

Speech

Overview

James Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem and was a novelist, essayist, playwright, and civil rights activist. In Search of a Majority is an adaptation from an address Baldwin made at Kalamazoo College in 1960 that discusses American cultural standards of race, class, and ethnicity. This speech inspires discussion on privilege, power, social structures, ethnicity, and history’s influence on current race relations.

Full Text*

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Source

Address at Kalamazoo College (1960)

Type

Reading

Themes

Citizenship and DemocracyDiversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingHeritage and TraditionIdentity and CommunityJustice and EqualityRace, Ethnicity and Culture

Big Questions

What are the barriers to building democracy?What does it mean to be American?What makes a "good" citizen?How do we connect with those who are different from us?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?Is difference a problem, an opportunity, a challenge or a gift?Why is difference sometimes threatening?What do people gain from joining a group? What do they lose?Who gets left out and why?Can our heritage and our traditions be a source of division?How do I understand my heritage and traditions?How have my past and heritage shaped me?What do we inherit from our ancestors?How do we define who we are?How do you understand your own identity? How does it relate to the communities you are a part of?Can there be justice without equality?What are the causes of injustice and inequality?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?Why do racial disparities exist and how do we change them?

Publication

Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is your first reaction to this piece? Do you think it is “dangerous,” “painful,” or “reckless” (173)?
  2. What do you think the speaker means when he uses the word, “standard” (174)?
  3. Is it important “to isolate or to define the majority” before talking about the minority?
  4. What do you think about the closing line, “the world is before you and you need not to take it or leave it as it was when you came”?
  5. What responsibility do people have for their country?
  6. What do you think is the influence of the majority on society as a whole? What is the influence of minorities?
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