James Baldwin

Today James Baldwin would have been 83 years old. He was such a towering (literary, public, creative) figure in so many ways in this country.

Here are a few quotations:

“The people who call themselves ‘born again’ today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope – or wish – to enter.”

“Lincoln’s intention was not to ‘free’ the slaves but to ‘destabilize’ the Confederate Government by giving their slaves reason to ‘defect.’ The Emancipation Proclamation freed, precisely, those slaves who were not under the authority of the President of what could not yet be insured as a Union.”

“He may be a very nice man. But I haven’t got the time to figure that out. All I know is, he’s got a uniform and a gun and I have to relate to him that way. That’s the only way to relate to him.”

“Because I was born in a Christian culture, I never considered myself to be totally a free human being. In my own mind, and in fact, I was told by Christians what I could do and what I could become and what my life was worth. Now, this means that one’s concept of human freedom is in sense frozen or strangled at the root. This has to do, of course, with the fact that though he was born in Nazareth under a very hot sun, and though we know that he spent his life beneath that sun, the Christ I was presented with was presented to me with blue eyes and blond hair, and all the virtues to which I, as a black man, was expected to aspire had, by definition, to be white. This may seem a very simple thing and from some points of view it might even seem to be a desirable thing. But in fact what it did was make me very early, make us, the blacks, very early distrust our own experiences and refuse, in effect, to articulate that experience to the Christians who were our oppressors. That was a great loss for me, as a black man. I want to suggest that it was also a great loss for you, as white people.”

“But those songs we sang, and sing, our dances and the way we talk to each other, betray a terrifying pain, a pain so great that most Westerners, are simply baffled by it and paralysed by it, because they do not dare imagine what it would be like to be a black father, and what a black father would have to tell a black son in order for the black son to live at all.”