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If we — an now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others– do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophesy, re-created from the Bible in a song by a slave, is upon us:
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”
– James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
I just couldn’t watch the second GOP debates tonight. I knew I couldn’t face the Donald and his band of equally exquisite misfits. I’m not exactly in love with the Democrats either, but the GOP clown car is just too long, too tiring, too damn depressing. So I turned my TV off, tuned out, and read me some James Baldwin.
You could say Ta-Nehisi Coates brought me here (after reading Between the World and Me). Or perhaps, it has been these last couple years of official violence directed at the poor and the black in many of our biggest cities (St Louis, Baltimore, Las Angeles, New York). Or perhaps, I could also say that Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain also brought me here. Perhaps, it was reading the Old Testament with my own teenage children that pushed me in this direction.
Or perhaps, even the promise of the New Testament. Maybe, it was my despair over the way that 14-year-old Muslim boy was treated with his homemade clock. I needed tonight a poetic healing and a spiritual justice. An Old Testament warning with a New Testament salve and a black rhythm. I needed James Baldwin’s force, his poetry, his humanist hope, his infinitely quotable words. God, his prose is poetic. I literally ran out of post-it notes as I read this 106 page thesis, laid at the feet of his namesake nephew.
God this book was beginning to end sad and moving and powerful and beautiful; and so now writing this and glancing at the highlights (lowlights) of the GOP debates, I can securely say, I made the right damn choice tonight.
This collections of essays on race is almost breathtaking in its brilliance. Every paragraph contains an insight or truth that is shines a harsh light on the realities of American history and culture. The fact that almost all of it is as relevant today as when this was originally published almost fifty years ago is depressing, but speaks to Baldwin’s genius.
Jesse L. Martin reads in a clear, effective voice that communicates Baldwin’s passion by letting the words speak for themselves. I would say it is perfect.
Now I have to get the book itself so I can start underlining and memorizing. It really is that good.