What might James Baldwin say? | TheLoop21.com

James Baldwin: On that Race Conversation (from “Too Late, Too Late” published 1949 in Commentary)

“The full story of white and black in the country is more vast and shattering than we would like to believe, and like an unhindered infection in the body, it has the power to make our whole organism sick.”

He doesn’t say that our organism is sick.  He says that racism–especially in the black/white form, through an ignoring of it, has the power to make the whole organism sick.   What is he saying?  We are not ‘originally’ with racism.  Race theory is constructed.  It was constructed in times of colonial expansion and white dominance world-wide.  It has gone unchecked, largely, and has included most of the world’s dominant along the ethnicity/gender/sexuality/religion/class formulations of nation-state and colonial patterns–making a form of ‘whiteness’ as a global phenomenon.  It is not just a ‘white/black’ issue but that issue informs the various divisions that we make in different communities and cultures, always needing to be overcome.  It has been established.  The organism is ‘becoming’ sick–as James Baldwin says, as we ignore it more and more, wanting it to be locked away in prisons and mental institutions –which is an internalized racism, if you think of it.  Difference cannot continue to live this way.  As we see our world now, and reflect, we should understand the growing sickness.  As we become more diverse, we need more weapons of peace, weapons of justice, not weapons DISGUISED as weapons of peace–which we have in the dominant imagination now.  What will it take?  James Baldwin has given us words to reflect on.

Activist/Writer James Baldwin speaking to us today.

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What might James Baldwin say? | TheLoop21.com.

He eloquently points to the path of deconstruction, thought, and re-imaginations that are necessary for us to re-think ourselves and create possibilities for healing, mourning, and creativity.

James Baldwin

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

James Baldwin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Baldwin_(writer) was an American writer who spent most of his life living in France and Turkey. He was considered by most of the writers of the 1960s and 70s, including Maya Angelou today, to be one of the United States’ best writers and intellectuals. His writing was immersed in politics and history and the struggles this entails when brought into the historical present. He left Greenwich Village, NY when he was 17 years old, to move to France because he was embittered and disillusioned at the predicament of non-whites and non-heterosexual people in the United States and felt that he could not write unless he was away from the US. His writing was written from his involvements in Europe with French and Turkish political movements against state injustices and in the United States Civil Rights Movement. He was one of the few African-American intellectuals to be invited by top public intellectual forums and debates in Britain, France, and the United States.

Today, some poor African-Americans do not understand some of what James Baldwin is speaking about. It is my own opinion that it is because we have come further in the assimilation process, where our conditions have no historical precedence or connection. Patriotism, developed from internalizing the dominant notions (like listening to the news on television and repeating them as ‘true facts”) also plays this role in forgetting. As we move further away from the civil rights movement, it is even more of an urgent need in life to not allow forgetting to become dominant in our lives and to see the legacies that have shaped the present. It is an honor to have been able to see him on television when I was alive, speaking as sometimes a lone voice on US television, speaking of racism, resisting the status quo and its intensification with oppressions in place. James was and is today, a beacon of hope and thought, resistance against anti-memory and the weakening of the will to resist the injustices that are everyday in our systems today.

This clip is from a documentary done in 2002, filmed at the UC Berkeley campus circa 1979.

The following clip is a debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr (at the time considered to be the top US intellectual of that time). This was held at Cambridge University UK.