Saturday, April 02, 2005

James Baldwin: I am a man

Prometheus 6 posted a link to James Baldwin interview some time back. It's fascinating to watch. You get the sense that Baldwin is a writer who means every comma he writes, even when his thoughts are racing.

I didn't like a lot of my teachers, but I had a couple of teachers who were very nice to me -- one was a Negro teacher. You ask me these questions and I'm trying to answer you. I remember coming home from school -- you can guess how young I must have been -- and my mother asked me if my teacher was colored or white, and I said she was a little bit colored and a little bit white. But she was about your color. As a matter of fact I was right.

That's part of the dilemma of being an American Negro; that one is a little bit colored and a little bit white, and not only in physical terms but in the head and in the heart, and there are days -- this is one of them -- when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel, white majority, that you are here? And to be here means that you can't be anywhere else.

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. It's a terrible indictment -- I mean every word I say.

Baldwin's articulation of "doubleness" and the like has always struck me as deeply anthropological--come to think of it I was introduced to Baldwin's essays by a student of anthropology--as well as personal. I'll be exploring that theme in the near future. For now I'll just allow the interview to soak in.

posted by Fido the Yak at 5:00 AM.


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