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?