Baldwin has always been a force hanging over my head. His ghost haunted me. His works floated around me in a nebulous cloud of the unknown and I never really reached up to grab them. I had seen the tweets. I had watched a video or two. I read part of a book. But, it wasn’t until this class that I finally took the time to listen to Baldwin.
Not to say that I had not been listening before, but taking a class on a subject is different from a short lived, private interest. There is only so far your private interest can go. On the other hand, a class on a subject constantly expands and challenges your thought process. An example of this is my reading of Native Son vs my reading of Nobody Knows My Name (I believe this is the correct reading).
While reading Native Son, it was easy for me to have empathy for Bigger. He was a fictional character. None of his actions actually affected anyone. His struggle could be applied to real life. However, while reading Nobody Knows My Name, I found that that empathy had run out when it came to David Baldwin. You see, David Baldwin was a real man. He reigned over and terrorized his family. As I mentioned in class, I have known parents like that. I have seen the effects people like David Baldwin have on their children. And I hate him.
This was challenging. For me, it was easier to feel empathy for a fictional character than it was for me to feel empathy for a real person (and I do not know what that says about me but it does say something).
While reading Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room, I was not necessarily challenged, but I was able to connect to the characters and the stories that James Baldwin was telling. It was interesting to hear that people did not really feel a connection to Giovanni’s Room because I was heartbroken at the end. No one was happy. It happens so often in LGBTQ+ literature and LGBTQ+ works of art that it just felt like another nail in the coffin that some people cannot conceive of LGBTQ+ people being happy.
In Baldwin’s non-fiction pieces, it was interesting to see how he viewed the world. When talking about Martin Luther King Jr., it seemed almost as if Baldwin was infatuated with him (or maybe infatuated with Martin Luther King’s potential). When talking about the Nation of Islam, Baldwin’s distaste for the idea of the need for white suffering. At the same time, it is possible to feel that Baldwin is at a crossroads with himself. A crossroad he always finds himself at, no matter his age or where he lived.