Monday, February 04, 2008

James Baldwin: Your Must-Learn-About for Black History Month

Listening to my backlogged Democracy Now! podcast, an excellent hour discussing James Baldwin, gay African-American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist, and civil rights activist. His Wikipedia entry is here.
A boy last week—he was sixteen—told me on television—thank God we got him to talk, maybe somebody was taught to listen—he said, “I’ve got no country, I’ve got no flag.” And he’s only sixteen years old. And I couldn’t say, “You do.” I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does.

And the moment you were born, since you don’t know any better, every stick and stone and every face is white, and since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose that you are, too. It comes as a great shock, around the age of five or six or seven, to discover the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover the country, which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality involved any place for you.
--James Baldwin, in Cambridge debating William Buckley, also seen in the documentary The Price of the Ticket, written and directed by Karen Thorsen.

If the people of this nation are not capable of true self-evaluation, this nation may yet become one of the most distinguished monumental failures in the history of the world. People imagining their history flatters them, as it does indeed, since they wrote it, they are impaled on that history, like a butterfly on a pin, and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves or the world. Now, this is the place in which, it seems to me, the most white Americans find themselves: impaled. The do not know how to release themselves from it and suffer enormously, see, from that resulting personal incoherence. See, they are dimly or vividly aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, alright?

Now, the one person who released us all from that suffering—I met on that blood-red soil of Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Martin Luther King. He told me, he says, “Jimmy, segregation is dead.” And I replied, “Yes. But just how long and how violent and how expensive of a funeral is it going to be?"
--Calvin Levels, portraying James Baldwin, on Democracy Now!, December 7, 2007.

A fantastic edition of Democracy Now!, a fantastically interesting and important person to learn about, a man with a fantastic cadence, diction, and pose. An incredible early advocate for civil rights, for blacks and homosexuals. A last quote from him that applies as well to the J Continuum:

"Look, I love America more than any country in the world, and it is exactly for that reason that I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that."

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