James Baldwin as a Revolutionary

When I think of James Baldwin, I do not see him as a revolutionary. It is not that I do not respect his work for Black Americans or that I believe that he did not do enough work to better the American environment for Black Americans. But in a way, James Baldwin did not do enough. His positionality was not one that would cause an overhaul of the Western industrial complex or even that of the American industrial complex.

In a way, James Baldwin was complicit in the suffering of Algerians at the hands of the French. Just because you are American does not mean that you have the right to ignore the suffering of others. In ignoring the suffering of the Algerians to allow for the “freeing of his soul”, James Baldwin took up a position that white people take in America.

James Baldwin protected his place in society by ignoring the suffering of the Algerians. I do not know if it was his place to speak on the oppression of Algerians but Frantz Fanon spoke on it when he was from Martinique. James Baldwin chose to stay blind to the suffering of Algerians. Even when you do not feel right speaking up about a topic, it is your prerogative to uplift voices that can speak on it. James Baldwin did not do that.

In that vein, James Baldwin is not a revolutionary because he did not see the point of overall Black freedom. Nor did he truly see the point of Black freedom in America. The idea that love can solve everything is incomplete. Again, I am going to bring up Stokley Carmichael’s quote. True reconciliation is impossible with a country or a society that has no conscience or feels no pity or shame for what it has done to you and your people.

James Baldwin asserts that it is possible for racist white people to come around and partake in the love that he was talking about, but it has been years. We are dealing with the same things over and over again. If there was a point at which racist white people would come around, would it not have happened by now? What is it that we have to do to make them come around? What is it that we, as Black people, have to change to make them come around?

The answer should be nothing. In changing ourselves to receive some affection from those who hate us, we essentially destroy ourselves in the process. This is not an argument where you can meet in the middle (not to say that that is what James Baldwin was saying). Sometimes I think it is impossible for America to change. Sometimes I think that people like James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. have not done enough to actually change America.

I think about the Black Panther Party that crossed racial lines and country boundaries to bring together a coalition that could reset the way America and the rest of the Western world worked (not to say that this movement did not have its own problems). I think about John Brown who was about that action and sacrificed his life to the movement to end slavery. James Baldwin does not fit in with these people. I hate to say it but maybe he was all words and no action.