Final Thoughts

Baldwin has always been a force hanging over my head. His ghost haunted me. His works floated around me in a nebulous cloud of the unknown and I never really reached up to grab them. I had seen the tweets. I had watched a video or two. I read part of a book. But, it wasn’t until this class that I finally took the time to listen to Baldwin.

Not to say that I had not been listening before, but taking a class on a subject is different from a short lived, private interest. There is only so far your private interest can go. On the other hand, a class on a subject constantly expands and challenges your thought process. An example of this is my reading of Native Son vs my reading of Nobody Knows My Name (I believe this is the correct reading).

While reading Native Son, it was easy for me to have empathy for Bigger. He was a fictional character. None of his actions actually affected anyone. His struggle could be applied to real life. However, while reading Nobody Knows My Name, I found that that empathy had run out when it came to David Baldwin. You see, David Baldwin was a real man. He reigned over and terrorized his family. As I mentioned in class, I have known parents like that. I have seen the effects people like David Baldwin have on their children. And I hate him.

This was challenging. For me, it was easier to feel empathy for a fictional character than it was for me to feel empathy for a real person (and I do not know what that says about me but it does say something).

While reading Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room, I was not necessarily challenged, but I was able to connect to the characters and the stories that James Baldwin was telling. It was interesting to hear that people did not really feel a connection to Giovanni’s Room because I was heartbroken at the end. No one was happy. It happens so often in LGBTQ+ literature and LGBTQ+ works of art that it just felt like another nail in the coffin that some people cannot conceive of LGBTQ+ people being happy.

In Baldwin’s non-fiction pieces, it was interesting to see how he viewed the world. When talking about Martin Luther King Jr., it seemed almost as if Baldwin was infatuated with him (or maybe infatuated with Martin Luther King’s potential). When talking about the Nation of Islam, Baldwin’s distaste for the idea of the need for white suffering. At the same time, it is possible to feel that Baldwin is at a crossroads with himself. A crossroad he always finds himself at, no matter his age or where he lived.

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.

What’s the Use of Non-Violence in 2021

I cannot remember exactly when Stokely Carmichael said this but in reference to Martin Luther King Jr., he said “‘Dr. King’s policy was that nonviolence would achieve the gains for black people in the United States. His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.’”

When we think about Martin Luther King Jr. and even when we read about how James Baldwin thought and felt about Martin Luther King Jr., his legacy is non-violence. He exists in the American imagination as a saint, close to Jesus in virtue for his ability to turn the other cheek. However, it is clear (seeing the state that we are in today in 2021) that sainthood and turning the other cheek does nothing for the state of the world and the plight of Black Americans. 

As Stokely Carmichael states, America and other Western countries feel no remorse for what they have done to or continue to do to Black people. They do not believe that what they have done in the name of extending their reach, power, and riches was and is wrong (it was and is all for the greater good of their reign, country, or empire). They feel no compassion for the plight and the state of Black people in their countries to this very day. If America and other Western countries felt any compassion for Black people and Black nations they would not have murdered Black political leaders, unlawfully jailed Black political leaders, and usurped democratically elected Black officials in Black nations. 

If non-violence worked, why do Western nations still have their foot in Africa, Haiti, and Latin America? Why does the IMF put these nations into debt? Why do white billionaires determine whether or not these nations deserve the covid vaccine? Why are Black people second class citizens who are killed and assaulted for sport or for simply existing? 

We have advanced past the age of non-violence. When I say this, I do not necessarily mean that we have to start a revolution (although we really need one) but people need to stop thinking that allowing others to walk over you is going to get the attention of those in power to make them change things.

My sophomore year, I was in Professor Pierce’s class about the civil rights movement starting from the 1800’s. We read and I wrote a paper on a book titled: Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. This book is a biography of Robert F. Williams who was a part of the NAACP, at the same time as Martin Luther King Jr., but was also militant. There is one story about how on his way home, Robert F. Williams was being tailed by these white men who planned to kill him and once he got home, his wife came outside with a shotgun and that was the end of that attempt on Robert F. Williams’ life. 

Another story is that once Robert F. Williams was asked to step down from his position in the NAACP, one of the girls who was integrating into a white school essentially said that his way of fighting racism (ie: not being non-violent) was wrong. Later on, once her house was being shot into and terrorized, Robert F. Williams sent her a letter asking her if she still did not believe in owning a gun to protect herself and her family. 

Excuse my language but Robert F. Williams did not take any shit. He was the embodiment of “I won’t start shit but I will end it if I have to”. His ability to utilize and teach others how to utilize guns as a form of protection essentially saved Black lives in the town he lived in many times. Out of all the people in the movement (Martin, Malcolm, Medgar), Robert F. Williams died peacefully of old age. His idea of protest is essentially what we need to have in 2021. No more being sitting ducks allowing things to happen to us.

The Myth of Martin

Sometimes, it feels as though I know too much about Martin Luther King Jr.. I first learned about him in kindergarten after watching Our Friend, Martin. The movie frames Martin Luther King Jr. as the sole reason why segregation ended and why racism stopped existing in America. It is an interesting take. But it is also a movie that came out in 1999. In that time, little was really known about Martin Luther King Jr.. However, it was 1999 that the trial where the United States of America that was put on trial for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. where it was ruled that our government had coordinated the assassination.

It is so interesting to think about the way Martin Luther King Jr. is talked about today. He was a martyr. He was lovely. He was perfect. Yet, he continually cheated on his wife and allowed someone to push Bayard Rustin out of the movement because Bayard Rustin was gay. The man was essentially hated by the end of his life. As he began to speak out about poverty and the Vietnam war, his approval rating dropped. I believe this was prime time for the US to assassinate him. However, I doubt the US completely thought out the impact Martin Luther King Jr.’s death would have on the movement. In fact, they probably did not predict the riots that would break out after his assassination.

I guess that is part of the reason the US pretends to love Martin Luther King Jr.. It is almost funny how Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by the same state that pretends to venerate him and drags his corpse and name through the mud in an attempt to quell Black discontent. It is almost funny that a car company sampled part of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches to sell a truck. At this point in time, Martin Luther King Jr. no longer represents the people. He has become a part of the American imagination and has been run through the propaganda machine that so many go through.


As I mentioned in class, I remembered reading a book titled Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran in my Gay and Lesbian America class freshman year. *Spoilers*: The whole novel talks about the way gay men search for love and eventually fail to do so and end up in mainly sexual relationships, addicted to hard drugs (such as poppers and heroin), and stuck hanging around gay clubs.

In Gay and Lesbian America, we also watched movie (the name of which I cannot remember) where the premise was a closeted Catholic gay man struggles with his identity as he has dinner with his friends (who I cannot remember if they were out and gay or not). In both these stories, the men end up unhappy. There is no hope for them. There is no love for them. This reminds me very much of Giovanni’s Room.

Jacques lives a loveless life where he finds no comfort in the arms of young boys that he pays to keep him company and sleep with him. Similar to Jacques, Guillaume pays young boys to keep him company and attempts to add Giovanni to the mix (unsuccessfully) and dies. Giovanni is left behind by David, sexually harassed by Guillaume, and eventually sentenced to death without David even making an attempt to visit him. David, the penultimate character, finds that he can never love another person again and ends up alone.

What is so interesting about all of these stories is the holding on to the staunch idea that gay men cannot find love. That whether they are actively looking for love (like Dancer from the Dance) or are not looking for love (the movie I watched) and stumble upon it (Giovanni’s Room), it is impossible to keep the love that they gain, it is impossible for them to love another man fully or for another man to love them fully, and love does not exist for gay men.

I wonder if these works of art are just works of art of the times. Giovanni’s Room was published in 1956. Dancer from the Dance was published in 1978. The movie I watched was in black and white, suggesting it came out around the same time as Giovanni’s Room. I know that those times were very much different from today, but, I’m left wondering why that even in fiction people could not imagine gay men being happy.

David’s Fear

David’s guilt is killing him. That guilt bubbles up and out from his “cavern”. David recedes into this “cavern” whenever he thinks about people finding out that he has slept with Joey or that he can possibly sleep with men. It is inside the cavern where everything will be ripped from David, as a means to escape losing everything and disappointing his father, David leaves for Paris. Unfortunately, David is unable to leave the cavern behind. While he no longer fears what would happen if his father found out about his attraction to men (not to say that he is not still afraid but that that fear is no longer the biggest threat in his mind), he has to dance around those that he comes into contact with in Paris as to avoid being found out.

This becomes clear when we see David interacting with Giovanni for the first time. On page 251 it states “And then I was afraid. I knew that they were watching, had been watching both of us. They knew that they had witnessed a beginning and now they would not cease to watch until they saw the end. It had taken some time but the tables had been turned, now I was in the zoo, and they were watching.”. Here, we see that David has attempted to distance himself from the gay men in the bar by watching and categorizing them. By creating that distance, David was allowed to enter into and maneuver through the space as though he was a visitor, in other words, a straight man. The problem this quote outlines is that David is no longer the watcher. He has become a part of the exhibit he created and is now at the mercy of every man he has put into it.

Later on page 254, it states “I could not look at Jacques; which he knew. He stood beside me, smiling at nothing, humming a tune…But I was glad. I was only sorry that Jacques had been a witness. He made me ashamed. I hated him because he had now seen all that he had waited, only scarcely hoping, so many months to see. We had, in effect, been playing a deadly game and he was the winner. He was the winner in spite of the fact that I had cheated to win.”. In this quote we are seeing how David attempted to hide his attraction to men in a singular, close relationship. It is also shown how David thinks about his sexuality. It is something to run from. It is something to be ashamed of.

But, at the same time, David’s sexuality being something to run from and to be ashamed of comes from the way he thinks about others seeing him. When he is enraptured by Giovanni, David finds joy in their conversation and interactions. Yet, it is when he thinks about what other people are thinking of him, he becomes afraid. We see that in both of these quotes. David is afraid of being found out. He is afraid of being seen. He is afraid of being known. Yet, he still follows Jacques to the bar, knowing the risk that one day he might find someone who could put him into motion. While David is afraid, it almost seems like he wants to be known and seen, if only by one person (being Giovanni).

Punishment and Suffering

One of the biggest problems with the Black church is its fascination with punishment. You “stray” from the path God set for you and you are punished. You sin and you are punished. You make a mistake and you are punished. Punishment. Punishment. Punishment. There is little reprieve from the idea that we are all set for a fiery end if we do not live life in a way of Godliness.

Alongside this idea of punishment is the idea that you have to suffer. You have to suffer to get into heaven. God is testing you through your suffering. Satan is causing your suffering so he can tempt you. Many Black churches preach that to live in the way of Godliness is to suffer and if you are not suffering, then something is wrong.

I believe so much of this comes from the fact that Christianity was pushed and forced onto the enslaved. To make people comfortable with their own suffering during slavery, preachers taught that suffering was necessary to make it into heaven. A focus on punishment is such a Christian thing. Forgiveness plays a big part in so many other religions and it is just not seen in many Christian churches.

So when you have this fascination with punishment and suffering, you have this intersection where “sinners” are supposed to suffer the most and yet still get punished. And When a “sinner” is not suffering or does not seem to be being punished for their sin, people get up in arms. If you are happy and you are deemed a “sinner”, people will do anything to see that happiness destroyed and they will go out of their way to make you suffer as they do.

Which is weird because it is very clear that you are not supposed to cause harm to other people in the bible. You are supposed to love your neighbor. Yet, because people are so obsessed with suffering and punishment, no one is deserving of love. You see this kind of play out in Go Tell It on the Mountain where characters are constantly looking for love. I wrote about this before but it is really a weird thing where you do not see love in some Christian families because people have to earn love by being as holy as they can. Even when they are holy, they are still undeserving.


As mentioned in class, Go Tell It on the Mountain seems to be all about love but also about loneliness. Some characters are looking for love, some wanted love, others have an absence of love which is what leaves the room for loneliness. When Roy and Elizabeth are talking about Gabriel beating him, Roy responds to Elizabeth’s assertion that Gabriel beats Roy because he loves Roy (P. 21) with “That ain’t the kind of love I understand, old lady. What you reckon he’d do if he didn’t love me.” (P. 21). In a way, Roy is sensing an absence of love from Gabriel.

Elizabeth never loved her mother as her mother seemed to not love her (p. 147-148). She was separated from her father, whom she loved by her aunt who deemed him unfit to care for Elizabeth as he was “the first cousin of the devil (P. 149-150). In not loving Elizabeth’s father, Elizabeth comes to the conclusion that her aunt could not love her (P. 150) and the lack of love was reciprocated by Elizabeth.

Then God ripped Richard, a man she loved, away from her as retribution (P. 152). In a way, Elizabeth is aware that Gabriel does not love John or herself (P. 169-170), that his spirit is not right despite his promise to love her and John until he died (P. 182). It is this idea that all throughout her life, Elizabeth’s love has been taken away from her and that she has and will always lack love.

Most importantly, John is looking for love from everyone. He feels utterly alone for most of the book, searching for reasons why Gabriel doesn’t love, and searching for a way to know what others think of him. So many characters in the book have this feeling of loneliness and solitude. I think James Baldwin in a way is commenting on the ways in which people are constantly looking for love and a place to call their own. That the world is full of people who live without love and cannot see themselves actually being loved despite their great need for it.

Essau and Jacob

Gabriel does not like John. He does not like that John is smart. He does not like that John is anointed. He does not like that John was born out of wedlock. We could even go further to say that Gabriel hates John. Now, many people could argue that it does not make sense that Gabriel would hate John. Gabriel beats the other children. Gabriel is mean to other people inside and outside of the house. It could be argued that Gabriel’s dislike towards John is just a part of his natural dislike towards everyone in Gabriel’s family.

However, the text shows that Gabriel is capable of showing love. When Roy is stabbed, it is said “His father muttered sweet, delirious things to Roy, and his hands, when he dipped them again in the basin and wrung the cloth out, were trembling.” (P. 40). Gabriel is capable of loving others, it is just that that love does not reach John. While it could be argued that Gabriel shows his love by clothing and feeding John, it seems more that Gabriel does these things for John because he promised Elizabeth that he would take care of John.

This makes me think about the story of Jacob and Essau. Isaac preferred Essau. Isaac would have given everything to Essau if he could have but God intervened. Essau did not follow the tenets of God. Essau did not act as a first born son should. So despite Isaac’s intentions, Jacob stole Essau’s blessings. The important word here is stole. Because it was not that Isaac changed his mind because of Essau’s faults and decided to give Jacob Essau’s blessings. Jacob pretended to be Essau to fool an old man. While Isaac did not hate Jacob, he did not want Jacob to have the birthright. 

Gabriel is the same as Isaac, except with more malice towards John. While the difference in these two stories is that both Essau and Jacob were legitimate sons and John is an illegitimate son, the tale still stands. Gabriel prefers Roy to John. Yet, Roy is the son that does not follow the tenets of God. Roy is the son who does not seek to be loved by Gabriel. Roy is the son who does not act as a first born son should. While John does not seek to steal Roy’s “birthright”, his simple actions of being anointed and acting within the church makes him a better candidate. Gabriel hates that. Gabriel would rather see John lying on the couch stabbed and bleeding.

To Be A Stranger

James Baldwin is not the first Black American to attempt to escape America. I would say it’s a Black American tradition. We had Marcus Garvey who wanted to colonize Africa, but make it Black. Runaway slaves escaped and crossed the border into Mexico. Many Black Americans ran to Haiti when America decided to make colonizing Haiti, for a second and third time, its most important job. Black American artists— Nina Simone, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, and eventually Richard Wright, all left America because America is not a safe state for the lives of Black Americans or open to the success of Black Americans.

America is a dangerous place to be if you are Black. James Baldwin would eventually learn that the hard way. With a file opened on him as a disorderly that threatened that status of America as a slave state and the death of his close friends Medgar Evans, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, James Baldwin fled to France. I imagine that if James Baldwin had not left, he too would have eventually been murdered.

It is not hard to imagine. Black people to today are still constantly dying in mysterious ways after leading protests or coming out against America’s stance as a slave state. If the state can get away with murder against regualr citizens right now, anything could have happened to James Baldwin back then.
But I do not believe that is the only reason James Baldwin left. In existing in America as a Black person, specifically as an African-American, you exist in a state of constant “strangerhood”. I define strangerhood as an existence where you are constantly considered a stranger, no matter how much time you have spent somewhere or who you know. While all Black people experience being a stranger in America, African-Americans live in a constant state of strangerhood from the time they are born to the day that they die.

You are not a citizen in America. The state does not care about your survival. The people who live in the state who are not Black do not know of your existence, and if they do know, they ignore it. You are transient. It is almost as though you do not exist. The first breath you take and the last breath you take are one in the same.
James Baldwin was aware of this existence, or lack thereof. Despite his feelings of being a stranger abroad, it was still better than being a stranger in his own country because at least there is a reason for him being a stranger abroad.

To be African-American and a stranger in America was and is to live a life of constant death, where every breath you take is like your last. While Baldwin initially criticized Richard Wright for moving to France and escaping America, Baldwin eventually recognized why. I attribute that realization to age and the wearing down of the Black spirit.

As a child, you are somewhat aware of being different. You notice how you are treated differently in school. You notice how your parents act differently in the home than outside the home. However, it is not until you are older that you begin to realize. And realizing is different from noticing. In realizing, you are feeling the effects of the things you noticed. You are being worn down by them. You are being torn apart by them. Eventually, some reach an age where they can not take it anymore. In realizing that they can not take it anymore, they escape somewhere else. As Baldwin and many other Black Americans did and continue to do.