“How Does It Feel To Be a White Man?”: William Gardner Smith’s Exile in Paris | The New Yorker
In 1951, the novelist Richard Wright explained his decision to settle in Paris after the war. “It is because I love freedom,” he wrote, in an essay titled “I Choose Exile,” “and I tell you frankly that there is more freedom in one square block of Paris than in the entire United States of America!”
Baldwin, who moved to Paris in 1948, two years after Wright, embraced the gift at first but came to distrust it.
While blacks “armed with American passports” were rarely the target of racism, Africans and Algerians from France’s overseas colonies, he realized, were not so lucky. In his essay “Alas, Poor Richard,” published in 1961, just after Wright’s death, Baldwin accused his mentor of celebrating Paris as a “city of refuge” while remaining silent about France’s oppressive treatment of its colonial subjects: “It did not seem worthwhile to me to have fled the native fantasy only to embrace a foreign one.”
Baldwin recalled that when an African joked to him that Wright mistook himself for a white man, he had risen to Wright’s defense. But the remark led him to “wonder about the uses and hazards of expatriation”: