James Baldwin was a novelist, essayist, and playwright born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. Baldwin was best known for his works such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, and The Fire next Time.
Baldwin was an intellectual who expounded on the Black experience living in the U.S. during a time of great racial tension. Baldwin’s words are still relevant to this day, and in many aspects shed light on many of the issues African-Americans face currently in the United States. Here are 10 James Baldwin quotes that are still relevant today.
1. “[I]t’s no credit to this enormously rich country that there are more oppressive, less decent governments elsewhere. We claim superiority of our institutions. We ought to live up to our own standards, not use misery elsewhere as an endless source of self-gratification and justification.”
2. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
3. “[W]hite Americans… are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This… is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues… Do not blame me. I was not there…. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want? But, on the same day, in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of his heart, always, the white American remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.” — from “The White Man’s Guilt.”
4. “The reason people think it’s important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black.”
5. “Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one’s beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.”
6. “If you’re treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they’re real for you whether they’re real or not.”
7. “The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.”
8. “An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.”
9. “The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
10. “A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.”