Monday, March 4, 2013

Fire Next Time

            After reading the powerful The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, my mind was stuck on the first letter. The main message behind this letter to Baldwin’s nephew is that although hundreds of thousands of African American lives have been ruined because of racism, Black people still must accept white people because racism is engraved in history. Therefore, he believes that white people simply don’t know anything other than brutal segregation, or find it difficult to act on what they know. I found this message to be extremely relevant to a number of our class discussions about non-violent action. While Baldwin did not directly mention the importance of non-violence, his emphasis on acceptance and love shared many qualities of non-violent action. Another important message found in the first letter is hope. Even though Baldwin had come to terms that most of mankind was engrained in evilness, he reminded his nephew “most of mankind is not all of mankind.” I found this statement important because it displayed Baldwin’s belief that change was in fact possible, and was an important reminder to his nephew that integration was not forever unachievable in the States. 
Although Baldwin knew it would be easier for his nephew to hate white Americans because of their rooted evilness, instead he told his nephew to love racist whites like a brother. One quote in the letter that stuck out to me was “ the really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. You must accept them and accept them with love.” Instead of having a violent self-defense mentality, Baldwin accepted and understood that interracial cooperation was a far more powerful tactic. He believed that if he could force Americans with radical love, not violence, to see Negros as they really are, that would bring about change. Unlike many other activists of the time, Baldwin believed that integration would not only come from white people accepting Blacks, but Blacks also had to accept whites. This is a unique perspective because most activists saw white people as the only problem, rather than stressing the idea of tolerance of all races like Baldwin purposed.
Baldwin’s stress on acceptance and love also reminded me of James Lawson and the non-violent philosophy he spent his life devoted to. Both men seemed to have shared very similar non-violent theologies to inspire people into action and force change in the United States. However, what made Baldwin different from men like Lawson was that Baldwin was more of a believer in tough love than non-violent civil disobedience. For example, in the letter Baldwin reminded his nephew to force Caucasian Americans to remember their crimes to humanity even as time moved forward so that America as a whole is able to confront the seeds of evil.

Did James Baldwin remind you of any other activist we have discussed in class? 


  1. There is definitely an interesting juxtaposition between learning to love whites and holding them accountable for what they have done to the black population. On page 5, Baldwin describes “the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” Here Baldwin criticizes racism and segregation and places blame on whites for destroying the lives of blacks.
    At the same time, as you pointed out in your blog entry, Baldwin demonstrates the importance of accepting white people. The most important line is from page nine, when Baldwin tells James that “these men are your brothers.” I think that this line sums up the points that you made in your entry; while whites have committed a horrendous crime against blacks, they are “lost, younger brothers” and should be loved. In my opinion, Baldwin’s point is that his nephew must first understand the history of what whites have done before he can truly learn to love them.

  2. To me, these two comments by Baldwin don't necessarily seem juxtaposed. Rather they act as complements, for one of these is entirely dependent on the other. If White people were willing to accept what they were doing to African Americans there would be absolutely no need for the African American community to love and accept them through the changes and fear that they would be facing. Baldwin is saying that Blacks needed to love Whites to help them through the changes. By loving and accepting them they are forcing them to confront their feelings of animosity towards the African American community, and it is throughout this confrontation that Whites will come to terms with accepting Blacks as their equals. Baldwin's concept of loving and accepting whites through the change wouldn't need to exist if their wasn't this acknowledgment of White's failings on the subject of racial equality.

  3. I also found the first letter really interesting. I think what makes the whole Baldwin's book so fascinating is his peculiar view on the movement and on the racial relations between blacks and whites. He is not like any other activist and this is his strength.

    I agree with Alexandra when she mentions that Baldwin is convinced that African Americans have to love whites to face their fears and make them realize that not only blacks live in a segregated society, whites do too.

    The line that struck me the most in "The Fire Next Time" is "we cannot be free until they are free" (10). I found it really powerful because it implies that whites are as oppressed as blacks. They are enslaved by their prejudices and fears. It make them unable to see the reality of the world where they live. They are victims of this mental enslavement.

    Baldwin affirms that the "Negro's tyrannical power" (21) over the white man is the reflection of his own apprehension. If he opens his eyes on the black condition, he will finally be able to set himself free.

  4. I loved the letter at the beginning of Fire Next Time because I could relate to everything that was being said. At times I felt the letter was written for me instead of for James and this may have been the intention Baldwin. When he incorporated the letter into "The Fire Next Time" it's possible that he knew that the majority of Black Americans growing up in inner cities are/would be coming to terms with being Black in America and being indoctrinated to hate everything about themselves. When I read the letter, I find almost all of what Baldwin discusses to be the case today. While racism isn't accepted as publicly as in the Baldwin's time, the systematic incarceration and marginalization of Blacks shows America's cold indifference toward the issue. In order for Blacks to survive in a world such as Baldwin's which is many cases the same world we live in today, Blacks must not believe what the world claims us to be, but to know that we were not created to live in the conditions in which we exist.