Uncommon Sense: James Baldwin

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie; a lie of their pretended humanism.

James Baldwin and Bob Dylan

This means that their history has no moral justification and that the west has no moral authority.

“Vile as I am,” states one of the characters in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, “I don’t believe in the wagons that bring bread to humanity. For the wagons that bring bread to humanity may coldly exclude a considerable part of humanity from enjoying what is brought.”

For a very long time, America prospered. This prosperity cost millions of people their lives. Now, not even the people who are the most spectacular beneficiaries of this prosperity, are able to endure these benefits. They can neither understand them, nor do without them. Above all, they cannot imagine the price their victims or their subjects paid for this way of life and so they cannot afford to know why the victims are revolting.

[James Baldwin, @1:14 in I Am Not Your Negro] [wc]

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If you haven’t seen I Am Not Your Negro, yet, I highly recommend it. I’m not a huge fan of Samuel L. Jackson, who I used to think was overrated (and there was that whole Mace Windu thing) but his narration in this documentary is incredible.

I often feel there is nothing I can add to what Howard Zinn says, and that goes doubly so for James Baldwin, so I’ll just leave this lie.


  1. xohjoh2n says


    This came up recently.


    What caught my eye about that article was that they seemed to quote FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) – which is a name in itself which made me twitch a little – without actually going into any detail about who they are and what they are about. I mean, the basic argument in that particular case seems like it could be reasonable, but who is making the argument?

    A bit of googling and they seem like they could be the sort of right-wing group that cares more about being able to say the N word whenever without consequences than being able to use it in the proper and adequately described context. Maybe I’m wrong and they are actually all about real academic freedom and shit.

    (Frankly, I’m surprised the Grauniad just didn’t go into that level of investigation. But then I’ve been – despite them basically being closer to my politics than any other paper – quite depressed about their apparent fucking cowardice about poking sufficiently hard at some really fucking obvious anti-human acts by the government/other groups they are supposed to be reporting on…)

  2. unit000 says

    @ xohjoh2n
    Corporate media are corporate media. The Graun may be left-leaning, but it’s very much a part of the establishment. I’m no fan of Corbyn personally, but the Guardian has been an enthusiastic participant in attempts to smear him, not to mention happily colluding with UK security services.
    See for example:

    (NB: I’m not always a fan of Media Lens either, but I do tend to find them honest)

  3. says

    James Baldwin used racist invective on occasion to emphasize the shock value of abusive language. He was one of the most articulate people I have ever heard, and he absolutely did not have to lean on that language for shock value, as do white hipsters like Quentin Tarantino.

    I don’t recall where he said it but he once made a typically brilliant comment on why he could use that word, and we should not. The short form is that we gave it to him and it’s his and he would never give a word like that back.

  4. says

    Elsewhere, James Baldwin [I Am Not Your Negro @1:28:30]

    The future of the negro in this country is precisely as bright, or as dark, as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and their representatives. It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they’re going to face and deal with and embrace this stranger whom they relied on for so long. What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place.
    Well, I’m not a ‘nigger’.
    I’m a man.
    But if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. The question you’ve got to ask yourself – the white population of this country’s got to ask itself – north and south because it’s one country and for a negro there is no difference between the north and the south – there’s just a difference in the way they castrate you. But the fact of the castration is the American fact.
    I’m not the nigger here. And you invented him, you the white people invented him. And you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that; that I was able to ask that question.

    He’s not using the racial invective to shock, he’s using it so that it stands apart as an example; he’s separating it from the rest of his dialogue. That’s Baldwin speaking off the cuff, too. I love his rhetoric – the repetition of ‘north and south’ and ‘you’ve got to ask yourself’ – which establishes a memorable ‘hook’ in his speech.

  5. bmiller says

    Sad that decades later we are not only not asking (let alone answering) that question` but making it impossible to even ask it.

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