Coopting James Baldwin

I Am Not Your Negro, a new documentary about the writer James Baldwin, is an example of sympathetic magic. More precisely, it’s an attempt at sympathetic magic. As explained by Sir James Frazier in his classic The Golden Bough, sympathetic magic is the effort to absorb the  attributes of something by contact. To gain the power of your enemy, you eat his heart. While the film’s subject is James Baldwin (1924-1987), it tries to give moral virtue to the modern Black Lives Matter movement by shoehorning footage of recent protests over police brutality with vintage footage of the New York novelist,…

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