I cannot seem to choose which is my favorite, Toni or James, because the way they string words together is far more brilliant than I can even begin to comprehend. So, today, we’ll do a post for James Baldwin, in honor of the magnificent mural I rode past while grocery shopping on Clark and Division, in the beautiful city of Chicago.
novelist, playwright, literary, activist
born 1924, Harlem, New York
died 1987, St. Paul de Vence, France
I was first introduced to James Baldwin through my friend, Ulochi and was reintroduced to his life and legacy during a trip I took to Paris in 2015. Mr. Baldwin was a literary genius during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. Baldwin wrote about love, racism, politics, and culture. Baldwin did not believe in hate, Baldwin believed in telling the truth and he was just that– a truth teller, through and through. Telling the truth about Black people’s experience from the point of view of Black people (I have always found it ironic when non-Black people tell us whether or not racism still exist; as if they have been able to climb inside of a Black body and walk around in it for a few years), is a truth that every single person walking this earth needs to hear. The circumstances and shames of American culture that Mr. Baldwin details in his works have not gone away at all; they have, in most cases, only evolved. If you are unfamiliar with his works, the perfect place to start is by reading “The Fire Next Time” and I encourage you to watch his film “I Am Not Your Negro.”
Love Black people as much as you love Black culture
Some of my favorite James Baldwin quotes:
“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we are literally criminals.”
“I am terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say.”
…And this is what it means to be an American Negro, this is who he is– a kidnapped pagan, who was sold like an animal and treated like one, who was once defined by the American Constitution as “three-fifths” of a man, and who, according to the Dred Scott decision, had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. And today, a hundred years after his technical emancipation, he remains– with possible exception of the American Indian– the most despised creature in his country.
“If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them [African Americans] to endure, and, since the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it [the African American race] root and branch.”
“I am very much concerned that American Negroes achieve their freedom here in the United States. But I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls…”
“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”
“You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
“I am what time, circumstance, and history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that.”
“The truth about the Black man, as a historical entity and as a human being, has been hidden from him, deliberately and cruelly…”
The lie is that Black skin is bad, the lie is that being Black means you’re not as good, the lie is that Black skin is a criminal threat, the lie is that Black skin means guilty. The truth that has been hidden, “deliberately and cruelly,” is that Black people spark culture, we spark change, Black people are brilliant, strong, rich and capable. Black people are not placed here to suffer; don’t ever become comfortable in a position of lack. Ever!
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