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The Fire Next Time af James Baldwin
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The Fire Next Time (udgave 1992)

af James Baldwin (Forfatter)

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At once a powerful evocation of his early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice to both the individual and the body politic, James Baldwin galvanized the nation in the early days of the civil rights movement with his eloquent manifesto.
Medlem:MulticulturalTeam
Titel:The Fire Next Time
Forfattere:James Baldwin (Forfatter)
Info:Vintage (1992), Edition: Reissue, 128 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
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Nøgleord:Ingen

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Published in 1962, Baldwin was well ahead of his time in speaking the truth about America, and this is a work that is still searing in its relevance today. It’s fascinating to read of his life, his bouts with racist policemen as a kid, becoming a preacher as an adolescent, and the conflicted feelings he had about having dinner with Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam. He was perceptive in that he saw behind the obvious racism of Jim Crow into deeper, more insidious forms of racism in liberal areas, and in how history was so white-washed that the majority of Americans were blissfully ignorant about the country’s historical sins. He also saw truths about humanity and its tendency towards incredible cruelty, and yet, the book is uplifting in its hope to evoke change.

Quotes:
“From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded – at least, in the same way.”

“The treatment accorded the Negro during the Second World War, marks, for me, a turning point in the Negro’s relation to America. To put it briefly, and somewhat too simply, a certain hope died, a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them, or to hate them. You must put yourself in the skin of a man who is wearing the uniform of his country, is a candidate for death in its defense, and who is called a ‘nigger’ by his comrade-in-arms and his officers; who is almost always given the hardest, ugliest, most menial work to do; who knows that the white G.I. has informed Europeans that he is subhuman…”

“…a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

“When Malcolm X, who is considered the movement’s second-in-command, and heir apparent, points out that the cry of ‘violence’ was not raised, for example, when the Israelis fought to regain Israel, and, indeed, is raised only when black men indicate that they will fight for their rights, he is speaking the truth.”

“The real reason that non-violence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes – I am not speaking now of its racial value, another matter altogether – is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened.”

I thought this was an interesting observation about Brown vs. Board of Education, particularly as I just watched the PBS American Experience show ‘The Blinding of Isaac Woodard,’ which describe the outrage of what happened to that returning African-America solider, how it shook Truman and led him to action, despite a very conservative background, and the tireless work of South Carolina Judge J. Waties Waring and his wife – all leading up to Brown v. Board of Education. This may be cynical from Baldwin, but I thought it was fascinating to consider:
“White Americans have contented themselves with gestures that are now described as ‘tokenism.’ For hard example, white Americans congratulate themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change of heart – or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps. It all depends on how one reads the word ‘progress.’ Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision surely would have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet.” ( )
1 stem gbill | Jun 8, 2021 |
In two essays, James Baldwin reflects on race relations in the United States in 1963.

The first essay is written to his nephew and namesake, James, Baldwin gives advice to a young Black man growing up, including thoughts on integration, generational differences between his father's time and his nephew's, and what needs to change. The second essay focuses on the elder James's own story, and investigates the way that both Christianity and the Nation of Islam failed to eradicate racism - and, in fact, often exacerbated it. To try to summarize these essays, however, is to tritely oversimplify them. Baldwin's style is almost that of a preacher, where thought after thought just pours out of him, all connected, but with hardly a paragraph break. I read most of the book in one sitting, but it was so dense that I needed to go back and read portions, and only now days after I finished am I attempting to write a review. I still feel inadequate to the job. But I will say this: if you are at all interested in reading about racism and race relations in America, read this seminal and sadly still-relevant work. Baldwin was extremely prescient, and we're seeing many of the results of that generation's failures in our country today. ( )
  bell7 | May 31, 2021 |
The civil rights era produced some fascinating, striking, profound literature - some of it nationalist, some religious, some secular, some cultural, some purely creative. This extremely short collection of Baldwin's brief epistle "My Dungeon Shook - Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation" and his slightly longer essay "Down at the Cross - Letter from a Region in My Mind" is all of those at times. The latter essay especially manages to be well-reasoned, moving, and even ultimately somewhat hopeful at the end, though Baldwin's tone throughout is never what you would call upbeat. It's a powerful example of some of the literary genius that the turbulence of the times engendered because of the way Baldwin is able to connect his own personal experiences to the broader currents of change.

Reading this collection through the twin distances of both time and personal identity (Baldwin was a 39 year-old black ex-preacher and author when this was published; I'm none of those things), the main thing that strikes me about Baldwin's writing is how individualistic it is. Though there was a great emphasis on personal freedom in terms of rhetoric in the 60s, all the real action was in the movements - hippies, radicals, reactionaries, flower children, protesters, the Silent Majority - that contested for the essentially bogus title of Voice of the People. Just as in the broader American community, the black community had many competing groups of thought, and while the Nation of Islam seems to have receded greatly since their heyday (their location near my junior high school has never seemed to be exactly overflowing with members), at the time they were extremely influential. While Baldwin doesn't endorse their conclusions in outlining his own view of racial problems, neither does he dismiss them without thought. He integrates his experiences with their radical theology and politics with his general life and religious experiences, and he's often extremely blunt when doing so. Just as "the personal is political", the political is personal as well, and his own words are best:

"There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be 'accepted' by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don't wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed."

I think that's a good way to put it, in that it would be true regardless of which perspective you were writing from. He's very good at showing how important the civil rights movement was to just about everything that was going on at the time. And, in wrestling with the way his religious background informs his view of what society has to do to truly progress, he can move far beyond anything you could expect from someone who had been a preacher:

"Thus, in the realm of morals the role of Christianity has been, at best, ambivalent. Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures – and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom – had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him."

"In the end, it is the threat of universal extinction hanging over all the world today that changes, totally and for ever, the nature of reality and brings into devastating question the true meaning of man’s history. We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement. We have taken this journey and arrived at this place in God's name. This, then, is the best that God (the white God) can do. If that is so, then it is time to replace Him – replace Him with what? And this void, this despair, this torment is felt everywhere in the West, from the streets of Stockholm to the churches of New Orleans and the sidewalks of Harlem."

That surprisingly idiosyncratic existentialism gets connected later on to the arms race. The threat of nuclear annihilation informed many aspects of American society; I've rarely ready anything connecting the arms race to changing views on religion, but Baldwin also connects it to civil rights, where the failure of America to integrate was a powerful propaganda tool when dealing with second- and third-world nations:

"White Americans have contented themselves with gestures that are now described as 'tokenism'. For hard example, white Americans congratulate themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change of heart – or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps. It all depends on how one reads the word 'progress'. Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision would surely have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet."

"Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality – the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return."

One downside of Baldwin's otherwise admirable determination to speak from his own corner is that there's a sense that he's all by himself, that his opinions are only his own and that he's a movement of one. He doesn't have much use for liberal reformers of the time; it's curious how the disrespect liberals get from all corners of the spectrum is inversely proportional to their actual achievements - to radicals, liberals are sellout wusses; to conservatives, they're dangerous appeasers of the bomb-throwers; to libertarians, they're enablers and harbingers of tyranny; even to themselves, "a liberal is man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel", in Robert Frost's phrasing. And yet, liberals quietly push the boundaries of progress a little at a time, roundly reviled at the moment and only rarely thanked even in retrospect. One particular section of the disdain Baldwin has for white liberals is amusing in retrospect:

"White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption – which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negroes accept and adopt white standards – is revealed in all kinds of striking ways, from Bobby Kennedy's assurance that a Negro can become President in forty years to the unfortunate tone of warm congratulation with which so many liberals address their Negro equals."

Indeed Bobby Kennedy was wrong - he should have said forty-five years, though to be fair Barack Obama is not exactly a typical African-American in terms of family background or upbringing. In fairness to Baldwin, in the Kennedy era of 1963 there indeed had not been much progress in race relations, and the watershed achievements of the 1965 Johnson era were two long years away. What would the book have looked like if he'd written it those two years later? It would be wrong to say that Baldwin is too pessimistic, because even though he does a thought-provoking job of showing how a cause that seems abstract to some is actually all too real, even today, his closing thoughts are both uncomfortable and inarguable:

"Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. But this is a distinction so extremely hard to make that the West has not been able to make it yet. And at the centre of this dreadful storm, this vast confusion, stand the black people of this nation, who must now share the fate of a nation that has never accepted them, to which they were brought in chains. Well, if this is so, one has no choice but to do all in one's power to change that fate, and at no matter what risk – eviction, imprisonment, torture, death. For the sake of one's children, in order to minimize the bill that they must pay, one must be careful not to take refuge in any delusion – and the value placed on the color of the skin is always and everywhere and for ever a delusion. I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand – and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.

When I was very young, and was dealing with my buddies in those wine- and urine-stained hallways, something in me wondered, What will happen to all that beauty? For black people, though I am aware that some of us, black and white, do not know it yet, are very beautiful. And when I sat at Elijah's table and watched the baby, the women, and the men, and we talked about God's – or Allah's – vengeance, I wondered, when that vengeance was achieved, What will happen to all that beauty then? I could also see that the intransigence and ignorance of the white world might make that vengeance inevitable – a vengeance that does not really depend on, and cannot really be executed by, any person or organization, and that cannot be prevented by any police force or army: historical vengeance, a cosmic vengeance, based on the law that we recognize when we say, 'Whatever goes up must come down.' And here we are, at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we – and 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 prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!" ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
These essays are lucid writings that made me admire the firm and magnificent writing style, while I was disgusted by the intolerance and racism that existed when Baldwin wrote the book. He is a first-rate intellectual.
Very short, easy to read in an hour or two and probably one of the most important books I read. I would like to feel your conviction that such a conviction is valuable and capable of bringing about change. Anyway, he is one of the greatest North American authors. ( )
  FatimaCastelao | Mar 15, 2021 |
The Fire Next Time is a 1963 book comprised of two essays:
1. MY DUNGEON SHOOK: Letter to My Nephew on the One-Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation, Baldwin is writing to James, his nephew, and namesake.

2. DOWN AT THE CROSS: Letter from a Region in My Mind

Sadly, Baldwin’s autobiographical themes are timely for the 21st century. He talks of the self-loathing taught to Black Americans and whether Whites should be paragons for how Blacks should live. He focuses much of his essays on religion and how it can sow seeds for concepts that are not necessarily desirable for learning to love your neighbor.

In much the same manner that Isabel Wilkerson explores race in her book Caste, James Baldwin did this a few decades earlier. He discusses the concept that race is political, not biological and that the “Negro” only exists in the United States of America. Baldwin also talks about the Third Reich, Germany making obsolete any notion that Christianity was all-powerful. He makes it clear that what happened to Jews in Germany could happen to Blacks in America.

Baldwin talks about being the stepson of a northern pentecostal minister and how that affected his upbringing and thinking. Much of the books’ two essays focus on religion, and attention is given to Elijah Mohammed, who was able to convert drunkards and junkies in a way that Christians were unable. In considering different viewpoints, Baldwin didn’t want to start his own country or religion. He was more conciliatory. He wanted everybody to get along. He emphasizes that writers, poets, and artists had the moral authority to point out the world’s lack of justice. Amidst his themes of imprisonment, prejudice, and fear, he pleads with Whites to deal with his people as men, not victims. He despises pity parties and wants to believe that the future is hopeful.


Some memorable quotes:
“Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black.” (p. 25). Kindle Edition.

“To defend oneself against a fear is simply to insure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced.” (p. 27). Kindle Edition.

“White Christians have also forgotten several elementary historical details. They have forgotten that the religion that is now identified with their virtue and their power—“God is on our side,” says Dr. Verwoerd—came out of a rocky piece of ground in what is now known as the Middle East before color was invented, and that in order for the Christian church to be established, Christ had to be put to death, by Rome, and that the real architect of the Christian church was not the disreputable, sunbaked Hebrew who gave it his name but the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous St. Paul.” (p. 43-44). Kindle Edition.

“Negroes were brought here in chains long before the Irish ever thought of leaving Ireland; what manner of consolation is it to be told that emigrants arriving here—voluntarily—long after you did have risen far above you?” (p. 60). Kindle Edition.


https://quipsandquotes.net/?p=446 ( )
  LindaLoretz | Mar 15, 2021 |
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At once a powerful evocation of his early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice to both the individual and the body politic, James Baldwin galvanized the nation in the early days of the civil rights movement with his eloquent manifesto.

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