photo: James Baldwin,
credit: LA Times photos
SWAP IN some names and this could be on the op-ed page this morning:
“We have seen what happens when the word ‘democracy’ is taken to be a synonym for mediocrity; is not taken to mean to raise all of its members to the highest possible level, but on the contrary to reduce such members as aspire to excellence down to the lowest common denominator.
We have begun to see what happens to a country when it is run according to the rules of a popularity contest, we have begun to see that we ourselves are far more dangerous for ourselves than Khrushchev or Castro. What we do not know about our black citizens is what we do not know about ourselves; and what we do not know about ourselves is that we do not know about the world– and the world know it.Nothing can save us– not all our money, nor all our bombs, nor all our guns–if we cannot achieve that long, long-delayed maturity.”
— James Baldwin, from “What Price Freedom?,” 1964
I’M CHEST deep in James Baldwin right now for a piece I’m writing. He’s in my head always, really. But now more than ever. New collection of much of the “uncollected” arrives in August, in time for his 86th (!) birthday. Of course, I’ll share more, but for now, this video is pretty much where I am in my head about him.
“I do not like bohemia, or bohemians, I do not like people whose principle aim is pleasure, and I do not like people who are earnest about anything. I don’t like people who like me because I’m a Negro; neither do I like people who find the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified or, may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I want to be an honest man and good writer.”
— James Baldwin, from Notes of a Native Son