[At the] National Press Club Luncheon in 1986, Baldwin was asked, “How would you assess the state of race relations today, how much change have you seen since The Fire Next Time?“ After giving the audience a slightly helpless smile that almost hid his frustration, Baldwin responded with what he called a “modest proposal”:
"What I would really like to do,” he began, “I want to establish…White History Week. (Audience laughs and claps.) Because the answers to these questions is not to be found in me, but in that history that produces these questions. It’s late in the day to be talking about race relations. What are you talking about? As long as we have ‘race relations’, how can they deteriorate or improve? I am not a race and neither are you.
“No, we are talking about the life and the death of this country…I’m not joking when I talk about white history week. One of the things which most afflicts this country is that white people don’t know who they are or where they come from. And that’s why you think I’m a problem. But I am not the problem, your history is. And as long as you pretend that you don’t know your history, you are going to be a prisoner of it. And there is no question of you liberating me, because you can’t liberate yourselves. We are in this together.
"And finally: when “white people” talk about progress in relation to black people, all they are saying and all they can possibly mean by the word progress is how quickly and how thoroughly I become white. I don’t want to become white, I want to grow up. And so should you.”