When James Baldwin Read America
Both figuratively and literally, James Baldwin has been able to read libraries out of America. Building them up and setting them afire, information is the weapon and Baldwin always made sure he was fully equipped to fight the good fight and ultimately win.
More often than not, Brother Jimmy (yup, we're that familiar) was giving it to America raw. Pun intended. From that interview where he called white people the N word to his dedicating an entire book to gay love and not just using them as props, Baldy (this nickname doesn't quite work, does it?) has been consistent in his overt shade, his spilling the tea for audiences worldwide and his unrepentant demeanor underscoring it all. In him, we find our kindred spirit, a man loving who he is and reminding us of the history that teaches us not to. Politics, religion, education, propaganda and race stacked up in one less than delightful reality sandwich, Baldwin forced us to take a bite.
See some amazing reads below--yeah I mean that both ways:
In interviews: "I don't know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only include what they feel from the state of their institutions . . . I don't know if the Board of Education hates Black people but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools that we have to go to. Now this is the evidence; you want me to make an act of faith risking myself, my life, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism that you assure me exists in America that I have never seen."
In daily reminders: "My entry into America was a bill of sale."
And when he refused to let America take on an identity without him:
"...we know what happened and we know who had the whip. It was not my grandmother who raped anybody...the plea is a very simple one. It's saying look at it...what is really happening is that brother has murdered brother knowing it was his brother. White men have lynched negroes knowing them to be their sons. White women have had negroes burned knowing them to be their lovers.
It is not a racial problem. It is a problem of whether or not you're willing to look at your life and be responsible for it and then begin to change it. That great western house I come from is one house and I am one of the children of that house, simply, I'm the most despised child of that house and it is because the American people are unable to face the fact that I am flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone created by them; my blood, my father's blood is in that soil. They can't face that..."
James Baldwin's name deserves to live on forever as a patch symbolizing the redemptive qualities in the quilt that is the history of America--soaked in blood, Baldwin both cleans it up and highlights it. This quilt, used to questioningly warm our psyches, is utilized nonetheless; ill-equipped to do its job, but subject to our refusal to let it go.
Thank you for your genius. Happy Birthday James Baldwin!
Ruth Jean-Marie is a graduate of New York University where she received her Master’s of Science degree in Global Affairs. Dedicating her life to the alleviation of misery around the world, her greatest goal is to become a superhero. Her interests include fashion, equality for women and Black people--that real equality, not the surface level stuff, traveling around the world and writing. She's excited about life and intends on living it. She also has a mild obsession with shoes, shopping and sharing her opinion. You'll hear all about it. Follow Ruth on Twitter and on Instagram.