I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Poster

James Baldwin: Self



  • James Baldwin : Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it has been faced. History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.

  • James Baldwin : What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I'm not a nigger, I'm a man, but if you think I'm a nigger, it means you need it.

  • James Baldwin : You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me.

  • James Baldwin : The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.

  • James Baldwin : It comes as a great shock, around the age of five or six or seven, to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.

  • James Baldwin : The world is not white. It never was white, cannot be white. White is a metaphor for power, and that is simply a way of describing Chase Manhattan Bank.

  • James Baldwin : I'm terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don't think I'm human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters.

  • James Baldwin : 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 recipients of the benefits 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 paid by their victims, or subjects, for this way of life, and so they cannot afford to know why the victims are revolting. This is the formula for a nation or a kingdom decline.

    James Baldwin : For no kingdom can maintain itself by force alone. Force does not work the way its advocates think in fact it does. It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of the adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness, even the panic of the adversary. And this revelation invests the victim with passion.

  • James Baldwin : It is not a racial problem. It's a problem of whether or not you're willing to look at your life and be responsible for it, and then begin to change it. That great western house I come from is one house, and I am one of the children of that house. Simply, I am the most despised child of that house. And it is because the American people are unable to face the fact that I am flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone, created by them. My blood, my father's blood, is in that soil.

  • James Baldwin : Someone once said to me that the people in general cannot bear very much reality. He meant by this that they prefer fantasy to a truthful recreation of their experience. People have quite enough reality to bear, by simply getting through their lives, raising their children, dealing with the eternal conundrums of birth, taxes, and death.

  • James Baldwin : But what one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, you have attacked the entire power structure of the western world.

  • James Baldwin : I am speaking as a member of a certain democracy in a very complex country, which insists on being very narrow-minded. Simplicity is taken to be a great American virtue, along with sincerity. One of the results of this is that immaturity is taken to be a virtue too.

  • James Baldwin : We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

  • James Baldwin : All of the Western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism. 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."

  • James Baldwin : To watch the TV screen for any length of time is to learn some really frightening things about the American sense of reality. We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly. These images are designed not to trouble, but to reassure. They also weaken our ability to deal with the world as it is, ourselves as we are.

  • James Baldwin : In this country, for a dangerously long time, there have been two levels of experience. One, to put it cruelly, can be summed up in the images of Gary Cooper and Doris Day, two of the most grotesque appeals to innocence the world has ever seen. And the other, subterranean, indispensable, and denied, can be summed up, let us say, in the tone and in the face of Ray Charles. There has never been any genuine confrontation between these two levels of experience.

  • James Baldwin : I can't be a pessimist, because I'm alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.

    James Baldwin : But the Negro in this country... 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 not representatives. It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face and deal with and embrace the stranger they have maligned so long.

  • James Baldwin : ...a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you find will do to you.

  • James Baldwin : Malcolm might be the torch that white people claim he was. Though in general, white Americans' evaluations of these matters would be laughable and even pathetic, did not these evaluations have such wicked results.

See also

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