One day his mother showed him a letter from his brother, "Lover," who had been mistreated by a white officer in the army. Jimmy responded with a letter. He reminded his brother that racism is based on fear, that when the white racist confronts the black man, what he sees is not the individual man but a "nightmare"of his own creation. Above all, he said, "you must take care not to step inside his nightmare," his guilt, and his fear, his hatred. To step into the nightmare is to justify it and to relinquish the soul's freedom and the control over one's life. To enter the nightmare is to become a "nigger."
"Do anything you want.
Just don't bring home a nigger."
Artist’s note: I never forgot what my father told me as a teenager. And then a few years ago, I barricaded myself in my apartment with a biography of James Baldwin while a million others evacuated an approaching hurricane. The hurricane ultimately veered east and blasted the coast of Mississippi. I emerged from my makeshift bunker with the need to express my father’s advice and get a tighter grip on the soul of racism.
*In the permanent collection, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum,
Rutgers University, New Brunswick NJ