At the beginning of the semester, I was quite averse to the prospect of writing a weekly blog. However, the exercise was important to my ability to process our assigned readings and to expand the scope of my understanding of the readings through my peers’ blogs. Upon reviewing many, many blog posts, I was reminded of the name of our course: “James Baldwin: From The Civil Rights Movement To Black Lives Matter.”
The name of the course implies that James Baldwin bridges the gap between the civil rights movements of the past and the present. As I reviewed the reflections contained in each blog, I saw more clearly how Baldwin serves as this intertemporal connection. His wisdom, though justifiably subject to criticism by thinkers today (especially feminist and globally-oriented thinkers), holds up quite well. He offers insight for a nation that has both changed dramatically and resisted dramatic change.
One example of dramatic change that has occurred is the increasing acceptance of queer people, in both the social and legal sphere. Looking back at weeks 4 and 7, I noticed that Baldwin’s fiction writing anticipated important, ongoing conversations in queer theory. His characters capture Sedgwick’s theory of homosociality in Go Tell It On The Mountain and Edelman’s theory of reproductive futurism in Giovanni’s Room. Perhaps most importantly, Baldwin not only anticipated these theories, but his work actually complicates them. His civil rights essays and social commentaries reject the idea that the image of the queer person and the image of the child must exist in tension.
At the same time, the U.S. has resisted dramatic change in many ways. Even as queer people gain legal recognition, the U.S. continues to suppress Black voters, incarcerate Black and brown people through a privatized prison-industrial complex, underfund predominantly Black schools, etc. etc. etc. These are issues that Baldwin spoke to, and we would do well to listen to him today. Returning to one of our very first readings of the semester, “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” we might ponder how America’s continued oppression of specific communities is part of an ongoing “moral choice” to become white (Baldwin 180). Moreover, we might expand the scope of the question. As the U.S. sends money to Israel and provides the Israeli military with weapons used against indigenous Palestinians, we ought to think about how the U.S. literally globalized oppression. Globalization didn’t merely bring U.S. fashion and technology to the world; the U.S. has exported colonialism, war, and terror. Hence, although Baldwin spoke primarily to Americans as an American, his insights––in many cases––now apply to the world.