Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Re-read my tattered, literally falling to pieces copy of this 1962 long essay by James Baldwin, a remarkably prescient screed against white complacency and black bewilderment.

Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.

This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose.

Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.

But at the bottom of my heart  I do not believe this, I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are.  We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.  Anyway, the point here is that we are living in an age of revolution, whether we will or no, and that America is the only Western nation with both the power and, as I hope to suggest, the experience that may help to make these revolutions real and minimize the human damage.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

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