“the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest; so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
At a time where we must look to the future to see the harmonious existence that must be within reach for all of us, we must look to the past with a critical eye.
“The liberation of Americans from the racial anguish which has crippled us for so long can only mean, truly, the creation of a new people in this still new world.”
It becomes easy to get lost in the farce of the current election, or the sad fact that any living human being would expend the energy to cast a vote for either appallingly similar candidate of the two major parties. I saw a bumper sticker the other day in the same style as the Bernie Sanders sticker but it said “Giant Meteor 2016- just end it already” I laughed out loud but I just don’t believe we exist there. Look at the heroics of someone like Colin Kaepernick, something I can’t even imagine happening, someone starting a movement within the NFL, one of the most restrictive even blatantly fascist organizations one can imagine. Forcing some of the commentators to have intelligent conversations about racism and police violence and oppression. If this can happen within the NFL, my hope continues to grow for our future
“The possibility of liberation which is always real is also always painful, since it involves such an overhauling of all that gave us our identity. The negro who will emerge out of this present struggle-whoever, indeed, this dark stranger may prove to be-will not be dependent, in any way at all, on any of the many props and crutches which help form our identity now. And neither will the white man. We will need every ounce of moral stamina we can find. For everything is changing, from our notion of politics to our notion of ourselves, and we are certain, as we begin history’s strangest metamorphosis, to undergo the torment of being forced to surrender far more than we ever realized we had accepted.”
I appreciate James Balwin’s articulations so deeply because he carefully and convincingly points out that the struggle to overcome racism, oppression and achieve true freedom is not only a black struggle, but a struggle of all people. The division lines the media creates between us are a complete fabrication and it continues to be easier to see through. Sane, patient conversations are happening everyday, in fact just the other day I was speaking with a kind old, maybe 70’s early 80’s white gentleman and we were speaking about James Baldwin and how relevant he continues to be and he told me honestly growing up in Arizona he never realized he carried bigotry with him until he moved to the city and began to experience black people and it took him having to work with a black co-worker to begin to understand how different everyone’s experience is and to come to terms that bigotry existed within him and acknowledging it was the only way any of us can heal.
“We are the strongest nation in the western world, but this is not for the reasons that we think. It is because we have an opportunity which no other nation has of moving beyond the Old World concepts of race and class and caste, and create, finally, what we must have had in mind when we first began speaking of the New World. But the price for this is a long look backward whence we came and an unflinching assessment of the record. For an artist, the record of that journey is most clearly revealed in the personalities of the people the journey produced. Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and with that revelation, make freedom real.”
James Baldwin’s essays should be read by anyone interested in a better future. He speaks to us from a past with no bitterness, or even bias, to point us towards a new direction and to remind us, our present circumstances do not need to be the way they are. We have the power to change everything, but we must start from the beginning and come to an understanding of how we have gotten here.
“What we can make of our unique experience depends on our willingness to accept the bitterness in which this experience was gained-the price we paid, both black and white, and the effect it has had on us. We look upon this experience with shame, but it is out of what has been our greatest shame that we may be able to create one day our greatest opportunity.”