Tag Archives: James Baldwin

James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. – James Baldwin

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People who shut their eyes


“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive. One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa. This fact faced, with all its implications, it can be seen that the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

—James Baldwin

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go tell it on the mountain


James Baldwin and Jesus never met. Or perhaps, I should say, that if they had, Baldwin did not talk much about it. At least not in public. Baldwin did not consider himself a Christian. He said as much. He grew up in a very strict, somewhat brutal Christian home and was a child preacher for a brief time to please his father. When he walked away, he walked away from it all.

It’s strange, he certainly lived in a way that Jesus would have found blessed. Jesus would have told his story in a parable. Perhaps he did. His life was sacrificial. His life was rooted in love. He considered people very important.

“From my point of view — no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed, no religion is more important than the human being.” Jesus would have been delighted with these words.

While Baldwin did not consider himself a Christian, Jesus considered himself a human being in much the same way Baldwin lived his life and this – Jesus believing in him – is as much an active faith as the other way around.

(James Baldwin, Beauford Delaney, 1963 Pastel on paper.)


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Becoming Who You Are


It came to me the other day, not exactly in a flash, somewhat tentatively, a flicker at first: most, if not all of my heroes were passive, not passive in the usual sense of disinterested and unengaged.

No, they were all very much engaged and present but not preoccupied by followers.

Maybe that is a better word: present. Each of them accepted their own souls. They lived into their names. They found themselves, as the saying goes and lived into that gift.

James Baldwin, Nelson Mandela, Jesus, Jean Michel Basquiat, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, John Coltrane, Gandhi, Thomas Merton to name a few. They wrote books, painted on walls or canvases, changed their minds, sat in prison, or on a bus, played an instrument, walked peacefully, prayed or submitted to a cruel death.

Curiously, by doing these “passive” things, by being present to themselves, they shifted the world.

chris woodhull

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