Me and my Native Son
“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin was published in the November 1955 issue of Harper’s magazine under the title “Me and My House,” but these two versions are not exactly the same. “Notes” is a dually focused essay, focusing on Baldwin’s relationship with his father, and focusing on Baldwin’s relationship with white America as well. This essay, in its pure form would appeal to anti-segregationists, but would infuriate many white Americans. In order for this essay to appeal to Harper’s Magazine’s primary audience, white upper class Americans, the focus of Baldwin’s relationship with white America was repressed, bringing out only the focus of Baldwin’s relationship with his father.
Thumbing through Harper’s, it is clear that this is a magazine for upper class white Americans. Harper’s advertises vacations to foreign destinations, large sets of books, and color televisions. All of these costly items are consumed mostly by upper class Americans. There is even an essay entitled “If we’re so rich, what’s eating us?” that focuses on national economics, a topic that lower class people are generally not as concerned with. In the entire November issue, there is not a single picture of a black person, and Baldwin’s essay is the only essay that mentions race. In the January 1956 issue, there is an article that tells of how southerners support segregation, which is accompanied by the disclaimer, “The point of view expressed in this article is far removed from that of the Editors.”(Jan 39) Needless to say, there were many letters in response to this article in the following issues. Race is a topic that is very under-represented in Harper’s in relation to vacation packages.
One of the main effects Harper’s gets from editing Baldwin’s essay is on changing the focus from an essay with a purpose to a story of Baldwin’s experience. Most of Baldwin’s analysis, views, and opinions relate to the status of society; especially views on white America and the effects of racism on a man. For example, in the beginning of the essay, Baldwin describes the surrounding atmosphere as being filled with, “the spoils of injustice, anarchy, discontent, and hatred were all around us” (“Notes”63). This line was edited out to keep Harper’s, white American audience, from seeing the problems of a segregated America, as Baldwin writes about in his essay, “The White Man’s Guilt,” in which he describes white Americans hiding behind a curtain to hide from the problem of segregated America.
In “Notes,” Baldwin wrote, “I saw that this had been for my ancestors and now would be for me an awful thing to live with and that the bitterness which had helped to kill my father could also kill me” (“Notes” 65) but the version in Harper’s with simply, “I had discovered the weight of white people in the world,” but does not elaborate on this topic as to what he discovers. The reader is only left with a...