“Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters” by Orlando Edmonds is a great demonstration of how Baldwin’s exploration of racism is not limited to a specific era. Many of the questions that Baldwin poses and the topics he addresses in The Fire Next Time and in many of his other pieces, are problems that those involved in Black liberation movements are still confronting and attempting to solve today. This article focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement and states that “critics fault BLM for reintroducing the problem of race and its significance in a supposedly “post-racial” society” (Edmonds 2016). The article also introduces criticisms on how “the Black Lives Matter movement is [often] interpreted cynically, with emphasis placed on its eruptive quality, rather than seeing the outburst as a consequence of its calmer voices going unheard” (Edmonds, 2016). Oftentimes, many think that when African Americans, in our contemporary world with BLM and during Black liberation movements like the Civil Rights Movement, spark liberation movements in an effort to seek better conditions, equality, and justice for the way they are treated in America, they are seen as being confrontational, aggressive, violent, and anti-white. However, this is truly not the case.
In “The Ballot or the Bullet” a speech given by Malcolm X in 1964, he speaks on this issue. Malcolm says that in speaking about radical forms of liberation and Black nationalism, which is a movement that advocates for the establishment of a separate and unified Black identity in a more radical way, “it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us (Malcolm 1964). Like Malcolm is saying in “The Ballot or the Bullet” and Orlando Edmonds is saying in this article, because the respectful and peaceful forms of protest have not been successful in the past, it is through these radical forms of expression that Black Americans can truly reach their goals (Edmonds, 2016). Furthermore, it is not that Black Americans are protesting against white people and white dominated and governed systems because of the conflicts with race in what is supposed to be a post-racial society. The protests are in an effort to correct the injustices that still exist today. Baldwin would have most likely agreed with this approach as well. As he writes in The Fire Next Time, “now there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching American society itself – its fundamental assumptions and underlying logic – needs scrutiny” (Edmonds, 2016).
The assertions made by Edmonds, Malcolm, and Baldwin all align with the idea that in order to dismantle the systemic injustices and racism that existed during Baldwin’s time, during Malcolm’s time, and now during our time, the problem of race needs to be reintroduced to society and a critical examination needs to be made of the structures, systems, and even people that perpetuate these injustices. It is very important to recognize that the problem African Americans face is a systemic one that they deserve to fight against either by being radical, respectful, or protesting in movements like BLM today. Furthermore, the problem is certainly not an inherent opposition to any specific group. It just so happens that it is one specific group that is continuously inflicting oppression and racism. Insights like Malcolm X’s, Baldwin’s, and Edmond’s often go overlooked and unnoticed by many. Understanding something as simple as this is one of the keys to understanding the purpose and reasoning behind Black liberation movements, including the Civil Rights Movement and BLM. The fight and movements toward equality and justice is not about being anti-white just because. The fight and protests are justified because oppression, exploitation, and degradation of African Americans still exists, perpetuating a cycle of systemic inequalities and injustices that unfortunately continue to plague America today. This persistent cycle and denial of African Americans’ basic human rights and dignity necessitates a collective effort to dismantle these structures and pave the way for true liberation, justice, and equality which is what both Malcolm X and Baldwin encourage African Americans to do in their work.