Sunday, May 11, 2008

James Baldwin

Recently I've been reading James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, which is pretty awesome. It's rare I find a book which makes me want to underline everything in it, but that's definitely what I'm feeling here. I like essays sometimes because it's kind of like listening in at the most witty person at a dinner party expound at length on things. However, in Baldwin's case, sometimes it's depressing how little has actually changed in America since the time he wrote the book.

"one cannot help but observing that some Negro leaders and politicians are far more concerned with their careers than with the welfare of Negroes, and their dramatic and publicized battles are battles with the wind. Again, this phenomenon cannot be changed without a change in the American scene. In a land where, it is said, any citizen can grow up and become president, Negroes can be pardoned for desiring to enter Congress."

Another passage that really struck me

"They face each other, the Negro and the African, over a gulf of three hundred years--an alienation too vast to be conquered in an evening's good-will, too heavy and too double-edged ever to be trapped in speech. This alienation causes the Negro to recognize that he is a hybrid. Not a physical hybrid merely: in every aspect of his living he betrays the memory of the auction block and the impact of the happy ending. In white Americans he finds reflected--repeated, as it were, in a higher key--his tensions, his terrors, his tenderness. Dimly and for the first time, there begins to fall into perspective the nature of the roles they have played in the lives and history of each other. Now he is bone of their bone, flesh of their flesh; they have loved and hated and obsessed and feared each other and his blood is in their soil. Therefore he cannot deny them, nor can they ever be divorced."

It's probably one of the clearest articulations of what I've sometimes felt myself in relation to race relations and diaspora in America. Go figure, James Baldwin just said it first.

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