Fifteen seasons of Criminal Minds have prepared me for this story.
‘Going to Meet the Man’ by James Baldwin takes place in 1960’s America during the reign of the Jim Crow characterization and its corresponding legislation. The short story follows Jesse, a policeman, through a series of memories in which he fantasizes about burning black people’s homes and terrorizing them in general
The story is disturbing not only for its main character, but because Jesse’s mentality is reminiscent of the of many people during the Jim Crow era, and some even today. The story was written during a time when 61% of African-Americans were registered to vote–hope was on the horizon, but racism loomed overhead like a dark cloud.
Jim Crow Laws, named after a racist caricature of the same name, were enforced until 1965, but racism was far from over in America.
There’s no doubt that Jesse is a messed up person, but these feelings of resentment could stem from feeling intimidated. Forgive me if I go a little too hard on the behavioral analysis here (see my earlier Criminal Minds comment) but Jesse may feel insecure or weak, so he uses his position of power to exert force on a socially accepted target: black Americans. His sense of powerlessness leads to his impotence, in which the only way he can perform is to recall the times where he felt powerful.
Jesse finds pleasure in remembering witnessing lynchings and other hate crimes, which stemmed from feelings of superiority by perpetrators in the first place. They are insecure about a situation where they aren’t in control, or worse, where they’re inferior.