Baldwin, as much as he is fighting against the depictions of race and masculinity in Native Son, is equally as concerned with their respective intersections of sexuality and spirituality.
Baldwin grew up as Bigger: “cold or black or hungry,” yet unlike Bigger has not “accepted a theology that denies him life” (Collected Essays 18). Despite the intersecting components of his identity (queer, black, expatriate, activist) facing extreme ridicule and shame, Baldwin advocates existing beyond these measures of diagnosed evil; he is not “sub-human” nor will “battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequethed him at his birth” (Collected Essays 18). This is a radical act of self-love, one that confronts the reductive binarisms of popular culture and Christian morality. I’m very intrigued by this autonomy, as I believe it is evident in every one of his works, both fiction and criticism.
Baldwin is being told by various institutions (including the church) that his body and its varying components are sinful, vile, and ugly. He is expected to morph into expectations of blackness and sexuality, and if he can’t, accept his lack of humanity in an exhibition of self-loathing. He stakes a claim in his writing, for the complexity and subjectivity of the individual, rejecting the tormenting treatment of the black body in society. This becomes an act of personal salvation, as much as it is an act of rebellion. ‘The recognition of this complexity,’ he says, ‘is the signal of maturity; it marks the death of the child and the birth of the man” (Everybody’s Protest Novel).
I also suggest that this notion must be held if we are to assess and understand Baldwin’s work. Not only must we appreciate Baldwin as an amalgam of identities, but his writing as an act of self-assertion in the face of racism, homophobia, and condemnation.
One thought on “Baldwin’s Self-Advocacy”
I think your comment about Baldwin using his writing as a way to “stake his claim” is a powerful one that I definitely agree with. In “Alas, Poor Richard,” Baldwin talks about the limitations and frustrations that comes with being a writer, but ultimately that it is something they cannot avoid because a writer’s work is “fatally entangled with his personal fortunes and misfortunes, his personality, and the social facts and attitudes of his time.” I also think that Baldwin uses this to write about the intersectionalities of his identities and uses his own narrative to write against racism, homophobia, and condemnation. Great post!
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