I have thoroughly enjoyed this class and the content in it, but my favorite aspects were the discussions we had and how difficult they were to broach at times. Baldwin has long been one of my favorite writers, but I hadn’t read or understood much of his writings on Civil Rights and sexuality, so experiencing those taught me a lot. It was even more enlightening to hear our class’s thoughts and reactions as we moved through the content together.
The main takeaway I got from reading Baldwin and other contextual works was nuance. Baldwin has a habit of stripping away all pretenses and getting to the heart of the sickening, dark, internal thoughts and feelings people have and talking about them in a, I guess human, way. Baldwin talked a lot about self-love and acceptance, and his gospel of love made regular appearances in his work, but in order to fully understand self-love he had to dive into the deepest recesses of self-hatred. Baldwin’s ability to experience, feel, and communicate multiple conflicting views and feelings simultaneously is simply astonishing.
Personally, this class was difficult for the express reason that it made me face things I’d rather not talk about. And, with no intention of pretense, I am very good at talking about difficult things. I am a straight, white, man. I had my reserves the entire semester about opening my mouth at all on the topic of race, gender, or sexuality. I personally think expressing my opinions about race draws attention away from people who actually need to be heard. But I understand my role a bit better now, especially after reading Baldwin’s essays The Price of the Ticket, My Dungeon Shook, and Nobody Knows My Name. So here. Acknowledging my privilege was not the most difficult part. I’ve known and talked about that for a while. Acknowledging my ignorance was also not the hardest part. Admitting I was and am guilty about those aspects of my life and identity, and that I am often blind to true action because I’m worried about them, is high on the difficulty chart. But hardest of all was admitting my deep-seated love for horrible things. I have tried to pick and choose aspects of the South that I love and hate, but they are all tied together and I am inextricably bound to it. I have tried to distance myself from the bad things. I do not mean to say those bad things must be accepted themselves, but they must be accepted as part of an identity. The same feeling applies to my family, to relationships in my life, to the morals I try to live by, and to myself. It seems dangerous to be proud of an identity so flawed, but I think now that it is far more dangerous to repress that identity, lest it manifest in more unhealthy ways.
Talking about this didn’t make it any easier to accept, but it did make it easier to understand. And for that, I am incredibly grateful to be in such a messy, complicated, nuanced, and tough conversation. Thanks y’all.