James Baldwin, living as a Black American in Paris, compares his experience as a black American (referred to in the title as “brown”) to the experience of the French Africans living in Paris. Black Americans living in Paris live among the masses, going to school, performing in clubs, but like white Americans begin to discriminate. He explains “The American Negro in Paris is forced at last to exercise an undemocratic discrimination rarely practiced by Americans, that of judging his people, duck by duck, and distinguishing them from another. Unlike in America, the “American Negro in Paris is very nearly the invisible man.” He is no longer singled out, or defined by the color of his skin.
In contrast to that, the “American Negro” does single out the French Africans who live together, in “ageless, sinister looking hotels” and are “forced continually to choose between cigarettes and cheese at lunch.” The French African is living like the American Negro lived in America; they are a second class. Like white Americans, the “American Negro” thinks they are better than the others because of a racial pride, “Perhaps it now occurs to him that in this need to establish himself in relation to his past he is most American, that this depthless alienation from oneself and one’s people is, in sum, the American experience.”
Baldwin suggests that it may be time to move on, but when returning to America the American Negro must return back to the way it was because even among their own race “the ghetto, anxiety, bitterness and guilt continue to breed.”