What They Said: James Baldwin


Evening Walk in Rinkesta


“It was absolutely clear that the police would whip you and take you in as long as they could get away with it, and that everyone else—housewives, taxi-drivers, elevator boys, dishwashers, bartenders, lawyers, judges, doctors, and grocers—would never, by the operation of any generous human feeling, cease to use you as an outlet for his frustrations and hostilities. Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or to seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough. There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”


–James Baldwin,

Letter From A Region In My Mind,

Published in The New Yorker, 1962

3 thoughts on “What They Said: James Baldwin”

  1. Stunning Baldwin. Glistening Baldwin. Masterfully wizardly Baldwin. Writing with enormous spaciousness, within which always waited his enormous archive of singular emotional impressions vis-a-vis his enormous archive of singular experiential resources. He produced delicasies of true divinity’s sacred cynicism, pessimism, and voice-in-the-wilderness valor.

    “Waiting here for every man.
    I’m not trying to tell you that I’ve seen the plan.
    Turn and walk away if you think I am.
    But don’t feel too badly ’bout one who’s left holding sand.
    He’s just another dreamer, dreaming ’bout every man.”

    1. Thank you John. I enjoy hearing your perspectives, ways of describing the things not evident. I am reading Baldwin now, with astonishment how the experience of the black man reflects that of women, yet is so “different.” The constant presence of a whip, to be reminded one is beneath, and somehow forgot, or seemed to. All the ways we must reinforce that “he” is where knowledge lives.

      1. Lady Celia, a very splendid joy it is, to hear that you’re reading Baldwin with the presence of women’s history seated beside you, yea, seated even within your own butt, spine, toes, fingers, mind, and within the experiences of your own lifetime. Baldwin, in addition to sage insights on nearly every crucial moral matter encountered by human beings throughout many millenia, surely affords no small attention to reinforcing the mammoth, historically-essential principle which is revealed in the overwhelming evidence that “she” is where knowledge lives, and that “he” is where its abuse is conjured, codified, and commanded.

        Thank you, dear one, for the very kind sentiments. Peace, contentment, comfort and good books I wish for you, now and always. 🙂

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