American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic
James Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin
American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic
Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected ? those, precisely, who need the law's protection most! ? and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person ? ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.
White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption?which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negroes accept and adopt white standards?is revealed in all kinds of striking ways, from Bobby Kennedy's assurance that a Negro can become President in forty years to the unfortunate tone of warm congratulation with which so many liberals address their Negro equals.
You don?t know, and there?s no way in the world for you to find out, what it?s like to be a black girl in this world, and the way white men, and black men, too, baby, treat you.
Youth must be the worst time in anybody's life. Everything's happening for the first time, which means that sorrow, then, lasts forever. Later, you can see that there was something very beautiful in it. That's because you ain't got to go through it no more.
Society is held together by our need; we bind it together with legend, myth, coercion, fearing that without it we will be hurled into that void, within which, like the earth before the Word was spoken, the foundations of society are hidden.
The betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe. If this were not so there would be no moral standards in the world at all.
The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.
The question is banal but one of the real troubles with living is that living is so banal. Everyone, after all, goes the same dark road ? and the road has a trick of being most dark, most treacherous, when it seems most bright ? and it?s true that nobody stays in the Garden of Eden...Perhaps everybody has a Garden of Eden, I don?t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.
The trouble with a secret life is that it is very frequently a secret from the person who lives it and not at all a secret for the people he encounters. He encounters, because he must encounter, those people who see his secrecy before they see anything else, and who drag these secrets out of him; sometimes with the intention of using them against him, sometimes with more benevolent intent; but, whatever the intent, the moment is awful and the accumulating revelation is an unspeakable anguish. The aim of the dreamer, after all, is merely to go on dreaming and not to be molested by the world. His dreams are his protection against the world. But the aims of life are antithetical to those of the dreamer, and the teeth of the world are sharp.
There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one?s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people?s pain. You ought to have some apprehension that the man you see before you was once even younger than you are now and arrived at his present wretchedness by imperceptible degrees.
This past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful. I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering ? enough is certainly as good as a feast ? but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth ? and indeed, no church ? can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words. If one is continually surviving the worse that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring; whatever it brings must be borne. And at this level of experience one?s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry.
True rebels after all, are as rare as true lovers, and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one's life
Well,? I said, ?Paris is old, is many centuries. You feel, in Paris, all the time gone by. That isn?t what you feel in New York ? ?He was smiling. I stopped. ?What do you feel in New York?? he asked. ?Perhaps you feel,? I told him, ?all the time to come. There?s such power there, everything is in such movement. You can?t help wondering?I can?t help wondering?what it will all be like?many years from now.
White Americans have contented themselves with gestures that are now described as tokenism. For hard example, white Americans congratulate themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change of heart ? or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps. It all depends on how one reads the word progress. Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision would surely have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet.
You don't know how much I needed to hear from you. I wanted to write you many a time but I dug how much I must have hurt you and so I didn't write. But now I feel like a man who's been trying to climb up out of some deep, really deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside.
Yr crown has been bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on yr head
Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped, after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn't lived in Harlem for years. Yet, as the cab moved uptown through streets which seemed, with a rush, to darken with dark people, and as I covertly studied Sonny's face, it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind. It's always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.
The brutal truth is that the bulk of white people in American never had any interest in educating black people, except as this could serve white purposes. It is not the black child's language that is in question, it is not his language that is despised: It is his experience. A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. A child cannot be taught by anyone whose demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate his experience, and all that gives him sustenance, and enter a limbo in which he will no longer be black, and in which he knows that he can never become white. Black people have lost too many black children that way.
The man does not remember the hand that struck him, the darkness that frightened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and darkness remain with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him wherever he thinks to take flight.
The question of sexual dominance can exist only in the nightmare of that soul which has armed itself, totally, against the possibility of the changing motion of conquest and surrender, which is love.
The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs-- as who has not?-- of human love, God's love alone is left.
There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior.
This was not as real as my despairing sense that nothing was real for me, nothing would ever be real for me again ? unless, indeed, this sensation of falling was reality?
Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.
What are you doing all the time? And why do you say nothing? You are evil, you know, and sometimes when you smiled at me I hated you. I wanted to strike you. I wanted to make you bleed. You smiled at me the way you smiled at everyone, you told me what you told everyone? and you tell nothing but lies. What are you always hiding? And do you think I did not know when you made love to me, you were making love to no one? No one! Or everyone?but not me, certainly. I am nothing to you, nothing, and you bring me fever but no delight.