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Rock Street, San Francisco

Racial discrimination has always been a problematic issue in American society. The novel by James Baldwin “If Beale Street Could Talk” (1974) highlights how racial discrimination can affect an individual and their families, in this case not one family but two.Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, the protagonist of this novel, is a black male who is falsely accused of committing a rape. Fonny has been snatched away from his pregnant girlfriend Tish and is imprisoned. As time ticks, he sits defenseless in a cell while the families struggle to figure out how to acquire money for his bail to help him get released from prison. Racial discrimination has long-lasting effects not only on an individual but the families and communities their apart of, especially the black community. The absence of Fonny has caused heartache and worries for Tish. At a time where Fonny and herself should be excited about the pregnancy and preparing for their future as a family, they are apart with limited contact. Things changed so drastically for the both of them, Tish knew time was not on their side. She knew that Fonny had to do time and “in six months time, our baby would be here. Somewhere, in time, Fonny and I had met: somewhere, in time, we had loved; somewhere, no longer in time, but, now, totally, at time’s mercy, we loved” (Baldwin 94). Tish reflects on their past and understands that for every day that goes by without Fonny is time taken away from her and their unborn child. The absence of his love is like a heavy black cloud over her head. Tish even finds herself thinking about prostitution to help her situation, she states “I could not conceive of peddling myself for so low a price. But, for a higher price? for Fonny?” (Baldwin 113). The weight of the world is on her shoulders and she is losing hope and is desperate. Not only do these problems affect Tish mentally but also physically. She is a pregnant woman going through a stressful situation and has no time to be at peace and enjoy her pregnancy. Tish expresses “if i’m going to peddle ass, I better not try it up here” (Baldwin 113). It is heart-rending to view how Tish contemplates how she will provide for herself and her child. Deciding where she will go and what street to stand on and certain spots where she cannot post at.If it were not for Officer Bell whom is an outright racist Fonny would not have been in this unfortunate situation. Further, Tish would not be dealing with additional stress and the pressure placed on her by Fonny’s imprisonment. When she lays on her bed she feels so alone she says “I lay there-wide awake; and very frightened. Get me out of here” (Baldwin 112). Tish is constantly haunted by the reality of what she is going through having nightmares because she is worried. She expresses “I dreamed all night, I had terrible dreams” (Baldwin 111). She is fearful when she is awake and she finds no comfort when she goes to sleep.It is clear that Tish was deeply affected by Fonny’s imprisonment. However, the only glimmer of hope was their unborn child. She was reminded by her family “you got that child beneath your heart and we’re all counting on you, Fonny’s counting on you, to bring that child here safe and well” (Baldwin 112). Tish has to be reminded to remain strong, have faith, and keep in mind that everything will be okay. She knew she didn’t have any strength left in her but she “was going to have to find some, somewhere” (Baldwin 112).Fonny was a victim of racial discrimination and it caused him to lose out on a portion of his life which he can never get back. He was targeted by a white officer because of the color of his skin. Officer Bell had “already killed one black kid” which may have been the outcome of police brutality. Additionally, he influenced Mrs. Rogers when she had to pick a suspect out of the lineup in which there was only one black male amongst the other pale individuals. Now Fonny must live “now, in time, with the roar and the stink and the beauty and horror of innumerable men: and he had been dropped into this inferno in the twinkling of an eye” (Baldwin 95). This represents how one man’s ignorant views can cause an individual’s life to be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Daniel’s incarceration and injustices he faced were very much similar to Fonny’s. He was falsely imprisoned and has witnessed and felt extreme horror and pain. His imprisonment foreshadowed what would later happen to Fonny. Daniel describes what his experience was like in prison, he says “some of the things I saw, baby, I’ll be dreaming about until the day I die” (Baldwin 102). He complains about the ordeal he went through while imprisoned and how he has to find a way to cope with all he endured. In other words, shameless racism can cause an individual to be arrested, tried, and locked away. In both situations, a crime had been committed and innocent men had to pay a heavy price for what another individual had done. Daniel speculates that maybe he’d feel different if he “had done something and got caught. But I didn’t do nothing. They were just playing with me, man, because they could” (Baldwin 102). He felt that all the pain and suffering he went through might have been worth it if he actually committed a crime. That his time lost and the horrible things he saw would not have been in vain. Baldwin does a great job in unmasking the negative effects prison had on Daniel. His imprisonment left him afraid to walk the streets when it was dark. He struggled with accepting all that had happened to him while he was there. Daniel admits he is “a little afraid to leave, afraid, in fact to hit those streets…is terrified at the same time of what that life may bring, is terrified of freedom; and is struggling in a trap” (Baldwin 105-106). He is fearful of what his life will be like from this point on and how well will he adapt to this newfound freedom. This highlights how damaging being discriminated against can be. One may think Daniel should blame the “streets” as to why he was falsely accused and imprisoned but the fault goes to the racist views of others. Daniel recalls a terrifying event while in prison he confides in Fonny that “the worst thing – is that they can make you so fucking scared. Scared. man. Scared” (Baldwin 103). He was serious about the fear that was enrooted in him through his experience. Daniel was a young individual who was not easily scared and feared nothing until he was met with the life of being behind bars. The dialogue between him and Fonny revealed a troubling statement that shows what it’s like as a black male living in those times. He says, “the white man’s got to be the devil” (Baldwin 103). It is evident that the odds are always against you.Both of these individuals experiences show how someone’s life can be altered and played with by the hands of those more powerful. Tish recalls her visit with Fonny, “sometimes it’s hard, because I ain’t got no business here—you know? And things are happening inside me that I don’t really understand, like I’m beginning to see things I never saw before. I don’t have any words for those things, and I’m scared. I’m not as tough as I thought I was. I’m younger than I thought I was” (Baldwin 183). This situation has brought out a side of Trish she is not familiar with and she is questioning whether she can begin to deal with this situation and quite frankly she is scared.Further, Fonny has been suffering while in prison. Everything about him has changed severely. In Fonny’s mind, “he wonders what the whole world, his world, is doing without him, why he has been left alone here, perhaps to die” (Baldwin 179). He lays there in his cell similar to how Tish lays in her bed and tries to piece together this mess that he has been wrongly connected with. Fonny is an example of what has been going on for decades, innocent man facing cruel and unjust punishments for things they have not done. He sees that these experiences change you forever.The tone of this novel was informative and was a real eye-opener. It brings to light an issue we are still dealing with in current events. Fonny, Tish, Daniel, and both families were examples of how racial discrimination can affect groups of individuals at one time. This story was taken place in 1974 in Harlem, New York City in which was inhabited by the black community, the poorer class. Baldwin exposes how the individuals who belonged to the poorer class were picked on and taken advantage of. The language and diction used by Baldwin was realistic and he did not try to disguise the effects of racism or make it sound attractive. Further, he definitely was not trying to come across as being politically correct. He was truthful and represented what life was really like for a black individual.Personally, I enjoyed this novel and it served as a great reference to how discrimination disrupts a whole community and can cause individuals and their families a life of misery and struggles. Towards the end, the fate of Fonny is still unknown symbolizing that the fight towards equality is still ongoing and the fairness in the justice system for black individuals is nowhere to be found.

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