MLK Now: Chris Rock Reads James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook”
In honor of Martin Luther King Day, Ryan Coogler, the organizer of Blackout for Human Rights, invited some of Hollywood’s most talented black actors and artists to recite civil rights era speeches at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. Zeba Blay, a culture writer for Huffington Post, called it “The Pinnacle Of Art And Activism” and noted that it was an inspiring contrast to the overwhelming whiteness of other Hollywood stories this week:
The event, called #MLKNOW, was not intended as an answer to the unbearable whiteness of Hollywood, but rather an opportunity to bring awareness to police violence, mass incarceration, and the need for systemic change. Still, it couldn’t have been more poignantly timed. It came just one week after Oscar nomination announcements rekindled the #OscarSoWhite hashtag. It was, unintentionally, the perfect antidote to the complete lack of diversity of this year’s noms.
In this excerpt from the event, Chris Rock reads “My Dungeon Shook” by James Baldwin:
Rock took the stage and read from Baldwin’s 1963 “My Dungeon Shook,” expressing what it is like to live as a black man in white America. “My Dungeon Shook” is a letter written to Baldwin’s nephew — also named James — where he encourages his nephew to not give up hope.
“Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality,” Baldwin wrote.
“But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”
You can watch more of the event on Blackout for Human Rights’ Livestream channel.