Final Thoughts – Barbaza

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.

A Different Approach: Anger and Guilt

I was most struck by the connections Lorde draws between anger and action, as well as between anger and guilt. Lorde rightly calls out many instances of white people’s, women’s in particular, reactions to her anger and the stereotyping of “angry black females”. She points to their distancing from her “tone” and how she expresses her frustration with racist systems. This rings true with the Civil Rights sentiment that the white liberal is the most dangerous threat to Civil Rights. Only sympathetic but distanced people pressure Black activists like Lorde to water down her message and accept contritions, and I’m really glad Lorde refuses to cede ground on this point among women. 

Lorde quickly moves into talking about guilt and how her anger is meant to prompt action, not invoke guilt. Yet the response to her anger is often guilt and here, Lorde falls very much in line with Baldwin’s previous accounts of guilt. She claims that guilt and silence perpetuate racism and ignorance because people are more worried about their own conscience and security. Lorde and Baldwin seem to approach the same problem from different directions. While both see guilt in the White community as one of the main inhibitors to change and progress, Baldwin argues that the key to this is universally to accept oneself and love oneself. Lorde takes a different tone, arguing that guilt is reactionary and often used as a shield to protect oneself from change. It is used as an excuse to do nothing and simply feel bad. This is the other side of the same coin of white sympathies. Feelings, but ultimately useless. Lorde finds anger more natural and more spurring, and I think a combined approach of Lorde’s heat and Baldwin’s love would be the most effective over time. 

There was one other thing that stood out to me, which is Lorde’s statement that “anger between women will not kill us”. This struck me as particularly profound and somewhat indicative of the social differences between men and women. Anger between women is something Lorde views as healthy because at least the anger is being expressed and not repressed. While I make no arguments for men repressing emotions, anger between men definitely will kill us. Whether that anger is directed at a system, at oppression, or a personal vendetta, men fight over it. I do not think that makes men or women more or less deserving of empathy, but it is an interesting difference where patriarchal society is impressing the idea that anger in women is outwardly dangerous but anger in men is socially accepted. The double standard is obvious, and it is a veritable triple standard in regards to women of color.

Old Wounds and Southern Pride

Aside from the usual prose and profundity, Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name left me even more surprised than usual due to the simple fact that a Northerner somehow depicted the South more accurately than most Southerners can. Baldwin’s account missed a couple details, but in general, his understanding of Southern nature is incredible. 

Baldwin describes many aspects of the south that are still overwhelmingly true today.  Details like Black communities in Southern cities are situated on the far side (usually East side) of the train tracks are still relevant in every Southern city I have been to. In Durham, you can walk down the railroad tracks with high-rises on the left and projects on the right. It’s the corner of E Main St and Angier Blvd, conveniently where the police station sits. That corner is also where two of my dad’s students got shot when I was twelve. 

Baldwin also accurately recounts how pointless Southern education feels, and some forty years later this is what I remember from my school. All of the boundaries, mostly from money which is inherently tied to race in America, meant that all that time studying was useless. Even with a greater emphasis on college and going to higher education, a lot of people didn’t see a point. Anyone who got out alive and with a plan was either lucky or privileged. So much of what Baldwin talks about is still very much the case in Southern cities. 

Eerily, Baldwin described the status quo in the South perfectly. If I were to pick a single detail about the social structure in the South, it would be the status quo. Nothing ever changes meaningfully, it’s all about keeping the peace and keeping things quiet. Baldwin describes this as dealings between the Mayor and the wealthy Black community, each playing the game of ceding publicly but resisting privately. In my hometown, the status quo is maintained by the police and the gangs. Shootings happen weekly, especially on the East and North side, and there’s no backlash, no action from the police. The Durham Police keep most things under wraps, they monitor the “dangerous areas” and they throw their weight around, but never publicly enough to incite any more than a few people. And if the shootings get bad enough or if they cross that line on Angier where the police station sits, then the raids start, the public action, the media broadcasts and the investigations. Just the way it goes. 

But aside from the city descriptions, education, and status quo, the thing that stood out to me the most was Baldwin’s understanding of Southern nature. He touches on this most in regards to Faulkner and how Faulkner’s idea of a middle-of-the-road approach is nothing more than wishful thinking. Baldwin’s objections to this are as always pertinent, and a lot of the well-meaning, older white men I know take the middle-of-the-road way. As Baldwin rightly points out, this is emotionally dishonest at best. At worst, it is a middle-ground between hatred and love, which is ultimately ridiculous. But Baldwin gets to the very heart of the matter when he says, “Men who knew that slavery was wrong were forced, nevertheless, to fight to perpetuate it because they were unable to turn against ‘blood and kin and home’” (213). This might seem dramatic at first but there is nothing more accurate of a Southerner than this. That does not mean that Southerners weren’t motivated by hate, fear, and racism, we absolutely were, and are in some cases still. But it adds an extra layer as to why the South is the way it is. Because a Southerner will always choose blood and kin and home. Even if that Southerner hates their kin and home and disagrees with all of it, nothing is more important to a Southerner than home. That is still relevant today, in the people I grew up with, the people I worked with, and in myself. There is something about being a Southerner that means being resigned to suffer for home, that I have yet to see elsewhere. 

And I don’t think most people understand this, or understand why it leads to Southerners hating the North so much. Cause we still do. I say we because as much as I would like to distance myself from that hatred, I am still part of the culture I was raised in. I don’t think the North understands how much the South still hates it. As Baldwin writes, “The North was no better prepared than the South, as it turns out, to make citizens of former slaves, but it was able, as the South was not, to wash its hands of the matter,” (213). Southerners still see the North as condescending, uncaring, lazy, and corrupt. Because even though the South was wrong (which it definitely was/is), Southerners will take being wrong, being hurt, or being dead, over revoking their home. And the North destroyed our home. Rightfully so, again, I am not qualifying or trying to reclaim any morality in the South’s positions throughout history, there is no morality in this pride. This pride does not justify anything. But it exists. Because as much as I hate what my home stands for, hate what it has done to me and the people I care about, I would still die for my home. And that notion allows for so much ignorance, hatred, manipulation, and stubbornness to be overlooked, all in the name of home.

Humanism and Civil Rights

I watched the MLK/FBI movie before reading Baldwin’s No Name in the Street, which ultimately offered me a much more nuanced approach to the tapes and FBI targeting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was aware of the tapes and their revealed contents, but the extent to which the FBI’s involvement in trying to take down MLK surprised me, especially given how personal a task this was for J. Edgar Hoover. I did appreciate the reiteration at the end of the movie that the actions of Hoover and the FBI were fully funded and supported by the state, regardless of how personal its motivations were for Hoover. The White House’s involvement in the surveillance and exposing of MLK’s private life is a direct violation of constitutional rights, but that is still undercut at every turn. This should not have surprised me as much as it did. McCarthyism, Red Scare tactics, and the government’s actions against the Civil Rights Movement seem criminally under-taught, partially because they obviously show the government has no real care for its citizens, and partially because omitting these contexts leaves out a lot of nuance to very important events. Obviously doing so would erode trust in the government, which is already at an all-time-low, but I think constructive distrust of the government is warranted. 

This movie also highlights the absolute ludicrousness of modern complaints about being in a leftist police state. Claims that lawsuits and basic accountability are political tyranny while Civil Rights and BLM protestors are shot, tear-gassed, assaulted, wire-tapped, bugged, defamed, and assassinated are utterly ridiculous, and the ultimate double standard on what it means to be White versus what it means to be Black in America. The involvement of the Kennedy’s and LBJ made the FBI actions under Hoover a literal police state. 

As for Baldwin, he offers a far better insight while talking about the different worlds of public and private life. Baldwin refers to his far more intimate relationship with MLK and also points out that many people, like his friend back in Harlem, completely idolized MLK without knowing MLK himself. Not that this takes away from MLK’s character, it just serves as a very valuable reminder that we tend to idolize public and historical figures that we do not know. Remembering that those figures are people like us, with flaws like us, would make the contents of the tapes, while still being problematic and indicative of another double-standard against women in the Civil Rights Movement, be less consequential to the controversy and legacy of MLK. And there should be no challenge to the legacy of MLK. 

Lastly, I am honestly unsure about the revealing of the tapes in 2027 as the movie references. I think they should be publicized for nothing else but transparency, but I ultimately think Baldwin’s point is the most important one. We should not ignore those tapes, but we should not let them make us forget that the people on the other side of the line, whether that’s race, culture, wealth, status, or history, are people too.

Americanisms in Ireland

I was interested in the different worldviews in Toibin’s Love in a Dark Time, especially after we discussed how Toibin’s Irish upbringing might limit him to the nuances of American societal issues which Baldwin writes about. Not to say that Toibin’s essays on American writers are flawed, I quite appreciated his thoughts on Baldwin. But I do think he lacks some emotional context of how deeply rooted racism, violence, and sexuality are in every facet of American society. 

To start, Ireland as Toibin describes it was and is dominated by the Catholic church. He references Ingles’ work that the church was “a fundamental force that shaped Irish society, dominated the way we dealt with our families, [and] the way we gathered as a group” (253). The power and influence of the Catholic church served as a main opposition, through direct and indirect means, to homosexuality. In this sense, I think there is a line of connection between Baldwin and Toibin. Baldwin describes how the pentecostal church shaped his family in Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell It on the Mountain, particularly via his father. I recently read a similar story called Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan that represents the church’s power similarly as a well-meaning man wrestles with intervening in the infamous Magdalene Laundries, in which women were practically incarcerated and coerced into forced labor by the church. Toibin brings a deeply emotional and close account of the struggles with homosexuality in Ireland. I have no intention of diminishing those experiences and stories.  I do however wish to point out that while Toibin deeply connects with Baldwin’s work, he does not acknowledge how inevitably tied race and sexuality are in America. This much is shown by his interpretation of Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. The short story is shocking, gruesome, and very heavy-handed, but it is also a very personal account of violence and hatred mixed in with sexuality. I think that without a full understanding of race in America, Toibin fails to fully grasp the mixture of race and sexuality despite his meticulous readings. I do not mean to fault Toibin for this, I simply think that it is indicative of how “American” the problem of race is as it is baked into every social structure, system, and identity.

Fathers and Sons

In The Male Prison and Going to Meet the Man, along with other more autobiographical works from Baldwin, the role of fathers in their sons’ masculinity stood out to me. As Baldwin has clearly shown, masculinity is clearly tied to sexuality, but most of my thoughts cover more general impressions of masculinity. I have no wish of invoking Freud or any other sex-linked psychologies, nor do I have a homosexual man’s insight into father-son relationships, but I’ve been avoiding the topic for long enough. 

I don’t know what a good father is. It very well may be true that relative to other fathers, mine is incredible. I do not see it that way. As loving as things may be now, my memory of that crucial fatherly guidance at a young age is sadly lacking. I remember tests and judgements. And my father once explained it to me like this: it is his job to make sure I am ready. That I am prepared enough, strong enough, and good enough in both a moral and general capacity. The phrase that strikes me most clearly is: “You are not a man until I say so.” I think it’s important to point out the good intentions here. My father wanted to make sure I was a good person. That seems pretty noble. He wanted me to be independent, honorable, intelligent, and compassionate. I aspire to be those things. It is fascinating and somewhat sad that we became so at-odds over the same goal. But that is my experience with masculinity, the keyword being enough. There seems to be a threshold, for literally everything from wit to sexual-performance. I learned very early on that every tiny thing, whether it was done with love or not, was a test. From everyone. Which means that everything can be failed. The price of failing those tests was not getting the respect, and much more importantly, the care that I needed. I say respect because that’s what I thought I had to earn in order to get help. I don’t know how universal that sentiment is, but a lot of my experiences with guys are in line with it. If we fail, we aren’t worthy of help, and therefore the only reliable source of support is yourself. And if you don’t trust yourself, because you keep failing, then you have nothing. I believe that is why a lot of men are so obstinate. There is a certain, albeit toxic, pride in passing those tests, even if they’re ultimately meaningless. At times it feels like that pride is all we have. It is a false pride, not a pride in yourself but a pride in your existence. Because a lot of us don’t like ourselves. And we’re wired, trained even, to ask for nothing, which means that if you don’t learn to ask, you drown or you take. I was fortunate enough to start learning, but only after my fair share of the aforementioned. 

I see a lot of that pride in Baldwin’s characters, and in his essays. It manifests as a refusal to accept, as self-hatred, anger, arrogance, or confidence. And once it’s learned it’s very hard to move past, because that is the way I think. That is the way I process the world and my place in it. So when Baldwin writes, “Since he clearly could not forgive himself for his anomaly” (234) in regards to Andre Gida, I see pride, refusing to shake a societal pressure because to do so would be to fail as he was taught. Of course, Baldwin’s treatment of Gida is opinion, as is my treatment of the topic. I’ve touched on a lot of the self-hatred and particularly the hatred that emerges as a result of being at odds with one’s identity and one’s expectations. I feel no need to reiterate those points, only to add that Jesse’s need for sexual release tied to violence and racism in Going to Meet the Man is one of the most grotesque and appalling manifestations of this pride (a head’s up would’ve been nice). Regardless, Baldwin concludes in agreement, describing the “male prison” as one born of isolation, built by “a most petulant and unmasculine pride” (235). I do this. A lot of my friends do this. We are isolated, too proud, afraid, or both, to ask for some meaningful company or conversation. We find our ways around it. Some are healthier than others, but for all the healthy practices in the world, I find myself repeatedly and illogically alone. In my experience, most of us just want to be held, though that does not help the overarching societal approach to masculinity. 

As a final note, none of this is meant to justify at all, least of all the longstanding societal restrictions, double-standards, and challenges facing women, and every other group for that matter. I simply wished to provide an insight, and possibly get a bit off my chest. Genuineness was requested of me and I hope I have provided.

“No one has ever died of love” (268)

That sentence struck me as particularly interesting, because it seemed counterintuitive to a lot of Baldwin’s thoughts on love. The confusion, hatred, shame, and desperation surrounding love, particularly at a young age, seems to contradict this sentiment, especially as they are expressed in Baldwin’s writing. Most of the conflict in Giovanni’s Room is centered on romantic love, and how it negatively affects the characters and their subsequent misery. After meeting Giovanni, the narrator is “utterly, hopelessly, horribly glad” (pg 254). The shame associated with the narrator’s immediate feelings for Giovanni is evident. Similarly, the narrator says “we simply stared at each other–with dismay, with relief, breathing hard” (pg 273) in describing he and Giovanni’s love and lust. The dual nature of shame and joy are rife in Baldwin’s descriptions of the narrator’s feelings towards Giovanni. Finally, it is heavily implied that love led to the events that caused Giovanni’s death. It seems plenty of people have died because of love, in stories and in real life. Love leaves many people miserable. But the deeper meaning of Jacques’ statement prevails. Feeling love has not killed anyone (generally, I guess exceptions could still be made). Love repressed, unaccepted, persecuted, or unspoken has led to pain, suffering, and death, but unrequited love has not. 

That sentence emphasizes Baldwin’s struggles with acceptance of his sexuality, love, and identity. Ambiguity and uncertainty lead to repression, fear, and shame, and the sense of those feelings pervade part one of Giovanni’s Room. The narrator’s own engagement to Hella, his disgust and reliance on Jacques, Giovanni’s dislike of Guillaume, and even the charade of practiced conversation in the bars all reflect the ambiguous, uncertain, and overbearing sense of fear in the novel. It seems logical therefore that Baldwin’s ultimate conclusion to these feelings is accepting love, not hiding it, repressing it, or fearing it. As Baldwin repeats numerously throughout his writings and interviews, accepting life is imperative to being human. The roots of this conclusion are very clear in Giovanni’s Room alongside Baldwin’s personal experiences with homosexuality and religion, but I think Toibin also makes a good point in referencing Baldwin’s influence from English and Lost Generation writers because a major emphasis of those writers is loss of innocence. Baldwin’s version of loss of innocence takes place a bit later in life and focuses more on the deeper, darker parts of human experience and the shame that accompanies them. For Baldwin, growing up is accompanied by a schism in identity, a battle between how he sees himself and how he feels. This lack of understanding and lack of acceptance leads to shame, guilt, and fear, and the ultimate answer is to, as Baldwin puts it, accept life and accept being human.

Repression and Race

I Am Not Your Negro reiterated many of the things we’ve already seen from Baldwin in Go Tell It on the Mountian and The Price of the Ticket. Namely, Baldwin’s gospel of love and how it grew from his issues with the church, and Baldwin’s persistent belief in the cause of racism coming from White people trying to hide their shame and guilt. Baldwin paints a picture of the illusion of whiteness, how whiteness equates to power, not identity. I was particularly curious about the context of the film, being released in 2016, and how it was received by both the Black and White community. I saw a good amount of people question its relevance, and others praise it greatly. I think the film’s relevance is blatantly obvious, especially after 2016, where we have seen repeatedly, over and over, that there is no line the white community will not cross to justify itself or bury its own head in the sand. 

My mind is drawn to the debates over pulling down Confederate statues in public areas, and I lived very close to the University of Chapel Hill where a lot of that tension started. White people justified leaving those statues up because of their heritage. For a long time, a Confederate flag flew over I-95, right outside my hometown. And this is justified by heritage. By pride, in ancestors being Confederate soldiers, which constitutes a gross lack of self-awareness already. However, no one seemed to acknowledge that most of those statues in the South were erected in the 1930s, and later in the 1960s, as direct means of intimidation and hate against Civil Rights. White people put up those statues to convey their hate, then later, quite conveniently, forgot how they got there and got angry when people sought to remove such symbols of hate. As Baldwin says around the 43:40 mark in I Am Not Your Negro, “It is not a racial problem, it is a problem of whether or not you’re willing to look at your life and be responsible”. People were not willing to look at how those statues got there, and what they meant, because we all know what they mean. They are statues of traitors and dead men. 

Similarly, in my school in North Carolina, we were taught that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights and the southern economy. What drove that economy was not mentioned. Slaves. The Southern economy was built upon slavery. My school was often mocked for being woke and we didn’t even acknowledge slavery as the prime reason the war was fought. Even more recently, the banning of Critical Race Theory in Florida schools and the paranoia over book bans and “race being taught to children” indicate a resurgence of refusal by the white community and its leadership (being most facets of the government) to acknowledge even the most basic accountability for the state of Black people in America. It seems White Americans are hunkering down to deny and obfuscate even more, from justifying racism as heritage to replying with “All Lives Matter.” Baldwin is absolutely right that most of the efforts of White Americans is to cover up, repress, or explain away our shame. And I don’t know how to deal with that, which means I still am playing a part in a systemically racist society. There are so many other things we could be spending all of this time and energy on, like combating climate change, dealing with capitalism, addressing the innumerable global crises. All of this energy is being spent to repress the reality of race in America, on one side of the aisle, and because of that the problem of race in America is endless. As Baldwin writes in The Price of the Ticket and as it is later mentioned in I Am Not Your Negro, “they require a song of my captivity to justify their own”.  There are many points to addressing this that I could not even begin to describe, but I think the media has a crucial responsibility to swallow. I Am Not Your Negro shows a myriad of humiliating and stereotypical portrayals of Black Americans, many of which feed into the complete illusion of ignorance White Americans have built up around them. How information is presented by the media and the government, particularly as media and information become more and more intertwined with everyday life, has a vast effect on how people see themselves and the world around them. BLM protestors cannot be called a violent mob, while the rebels that flew a Confederate flag from the Capitol are “exercising their rights”. This woeful, willful ignorance is destroying us. I just don’t know how to remedy that ignorance on a larger scale.

Hypocrisy and Love in Go Tell It on the Mountain

As Baldwin wrapped up Go Tell It on the Mountain with Elizabeth’s Prayer and The Threshing Floor, I was struck by how the story evolved into underscoring the religious and social hypocrisies surrounding Gabriel and women. This was not an unexpected turn, given Baldwin’s fascination with a church of love and early conflicts presented in the novel. Hypocrisy is also a common point brought up by religious critics and atheists, of whom I, in the spirit of full disclosure, am quite familiar with. My personal biases evident, I was fascinated with how Baldwin approached hypocrisy, particularly in his portrayal of faithful characters feeling justified in sinning. 

Gabriel is the prime example of this, as he repeatedly references God having forgiven him for his sins as an adolescent, and for his committing adultery with Esther. Similar to Elizabeth’s justification on page 21 (“Your Daddy beats you…because he loves you”) John’s perception of his father is revealed in his hallucination whilst being “saved”. “Then his father was upon him; at his touch there was singing, and fire…I’m going to beat it out of you.’” (191). Both of these cases highlight that Gabriel’s character, in real life and in “spirit” uses religion and piety to justify violence against his children. This is shown once again by Elizabeth’s aunt when Baldwin writes “It was true that her aunt was always talking about how much she loved her sister’s daughter…[Elizabeth] sensed that what her aunt spoke of as love was something else–a bribe, a threat, an indecent will to power” (150). Again, the aunt’s devotion and ideals of morality allow her to treat her niece terribly, to refuse to support or comfort her at all, all while pretending she “loves” her niece. This case presents the idea that the understanding of love as taught by religion, the tough love, the beat-your-child-because-it-will-save-their-soul love, is self-serving and incredibly harmful to (please forgive my word choice) actual interpersonal relationships. Obviously not all religious teachings of love are like this, but it seems in Baldwin’s understanding, those who learn of love and morality from the church and its interpretation of God’s love, are terrible at actually loving others. 

I was ever-curious to delve into the effect of religion on women. In Elizabeth’s Prayer, Elizabeth sees her love with Richard and John’s birth as a “disgrace” (148) despite clearly loving Richard as described on page 161. John having been born out of wedlock presents so great a stigma that Elizabeth forever sees him as “her” sin. She rejoices as his soul is saved and he is forgiven for “his” sin, which is utterly ridiculous because by Elizabeth’s own narrative, John’s only sin is being born of her out of wedlock. The core belief that, without having done anything, everyone is born into sin by a sinful act, creates an incredibly potent environment of shame and guilt over one of, if not the most, natural human interactions. The stigma surrounding sex and marriage, but particularly sex, permeates all of the women in Go Tell It on the Mountain, from the degrading portrayal of Deborah to Gabriel’s self-aggrandized vision of Elizabeth, with proper sex in wedlock, will give birth to a royal lineage. Gabriel treats Deborah, Esther, and Elizabeth as his possessions and mechanisms of his desires, then blames them as independent parties and tempters when he sins. The cycle of possessive actions, power, and control, met with double standards, blame, and guilt, drives the hypocrisy of the religion Baldwin depicts. 

Yet I am still glad that Baldwin acknowledges the merits and comforts religion provides. This much is shown just by John’s attitude at the end of the book, when he says “‘I’m ready…I’m coming. I’m on my way.’” (215). Baldwin’s persistence in religion’s comforts does seem to tie in to how he views his own “new” religion based around love. But it takes a lot to transition from the type of religion Baldwin grew up with and the type he adopted.

Self-Hatred in Go Tell It on the Mountain

Self-hatred is one of the most complex depths of human emotion, and as someone who has truthfully struggled with it, I am inevitably drawn to its themes when it is expressed in art and literature. Needless to say, I was surprised by the degree of self-hatred over race in Wright’s Native Son. My own ignorance towards self-hatred in the Black community was exposed once again after beginning Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and subsequent analysis by Douglas Field in Pentecostalism and all that Jazz

I expected the majority of struggles and self-hatred to come from John Grimes in Go Tell It on the Mountain, and while John shows a good deal of conflict over his “hardened heart”, I was drawn more to the character of John’s father. John’s struggles with religion are familiar to me, particularly with “his sin was the hardheartedness to which he resisted God’s power” (Baldwin, 17). John sees himself with darkness, an allusion to his skin and his soul, in regards to how averse he is to religion. Breaking the expectation of his Pentecostal family and community result in self-hatred. That much seems universal, at least in my eyes; expectations and pressures, particularly for young people, can put them at odds with who they actually are. That schism leads to self-hatred, and that much is one of the most common lines of humanity. 

However, Baldwin seems to deal, at least in the first part of Go Tell It on the Mountain, with how self-hatred is passed down by means of the father. This is unclear at first, but is gradually revealed by Aunt Florence via her interactions with John’s father. Aunt Florence reference’s the father’s past actions to being very similar to Roy’s recklessness and states “you was born wild, and you’s going to die wild. But ain’t no use to try to take the whole world with you. You can’t change nothing, Gabriel” (47). The father’s (Gabriel) behavior is not becoming of a preacher or a holy man, and by portraying him as such, his personal life aside, Baldwin shows a pattern of repression and self-hatred in religious figures. The father beats the son that is like him and blames the one who isn’t. Baldwin also shows this another religious figure, Elisha, who after being publicly reprimanded by his own uncle for showing interest in a woman, doesn’t accept his own feelings and blames Satan for causing them. These themes are not uncommon regarding religion or fathers for that matter, but a line in Field’s essay made me especially curious: “[Baldwin] lambasted the black church’s inability or unwillingness to counter a deeply embedded black self-loathing”. Field credits Clarence Hardy’s treatment of Baldwin for the quote. 

I am genuinely curious to study the differences in the Black and White community over the role the church plays in happiness, fulfillment, and self-hatred. Baldwin portrays a service as incredibly passionate, emotional, and devout, while maintaining a character who is unenthralled by the display. What role does the church play in a “deeply embedded black self-loathing” and how prevalent is self-hatred in the Black community compared to others?