James Baldwin: read or watch his work.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
- James Baldwin
James Baldwin is a name many recognize as that of a beloved American writer; but he was so much more. He was equal parts essayist, playwright, novelist, and a brilliant orator. As an African-American and bisexaul artist, living abroad in Paris and Istanbul for much of his career, his commentary on American society was integral to the civil rights movements of the 1960s and penetrated diverse audiences at the time.
If Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are known to be two of the most celebrated fighters on the front lines of civil rights, James Baldwin was the deeply perceptive social observer who probed into the deeper issues of identity and reality, inviting both races to reflect on the destructive ways of thinking that ultimately, created and perpetuate a historical atrocity that subjugates one man to another. “An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian,” Baldwin told Life magazine, “His role is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are. He has to tell, because nobody else can tell, what it is like to be alive.”
His work shed light on the dark reality of contemporary society’s struggle to free itself of its inherent racism. Beau Fly Jones wrote in the British Journal of Sociology that Baldwin was one of the first black writers “to realize the complexities of Negro-white relations in so many different contexts. In redefining what has been called the Negro problem as white, he has forced the majority race to look at the damage it has done, and its own role in that destruction.”
Baldwin’s purpose was to help give voice to and make relatable the experience of the 20th century American Black man, through the democratic vehicle of the written word. His clarion call for social justice echoes through to today’s #BlackLivesMatter, the modern Black liberation movement. Inequality affects each of us - Black history is American history.
In the spirit of inclusivity, as we each try to figure out how to make the world we want to live in, let’s celebrate the contribution of a man whose words continue to shed light on our path forward. Baldwin’s work helps us face the reality of today.
So what can I do?
- Learn more about James Baldwin’s personal life and professional accomplishments
- Check out his work
- Find your local library and borrow a book! http://find-your-public-library.dp.la
- Watch the eye-opening documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” that’s in theaters near you (and nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the Oscars this year!)
- Spread the word - tell your friends & family about it.
- James Baldwin Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Is the Product of a Specific Moment in History - Time
- James Baldwin Biography - Poetry Foundation
- Best of James Baldwin - Good Reads