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[[ Audible ]] The Fire Next TimeAuthor James Baldwin –

All policeman have by now, for me, become exactly the same, and my style with them is designed simply to intimidate them before they can intimidate me No doubt I am guilty of some injustice here, but it is irreducible, since I cannot risk assuming that the humanity of these people isreal to them than their uniforms James Baldwin in 1964Fuck the police coming straight from the undergroundA young nigga got it bad cause I m brownAnd not the other color, so police thinkThey have the authority to kill a minority Ice Cube in 1988The police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreactionResent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed Ta Nehisi Coates in 2015It feels like there s only one new thing about the Black Lives Matter movement, and that s cell phones Now people can record policemen destroying bodies and show it to people who weren t there, who have never been there The destruction has always happened The evidence is what s new But there s a big difference between The Fire Next Time and its descendant, Coates s Between the World and Me Baldwin in giddy 1964, before the assassinations of Malcolm X 1965 and MLK 1968 , thought real change was coming The end of white people An African American nation Everything seemed possible Baldwin s title refers to a spiritual God gave Noah the rainbow signNowater, the fire next time This is a warning He wants a revolution for his nephew, to whom this book is written Coates, fifty years later, is just trying to protect his son s body.It s not that nothing has happened Things got better, are better It just wasn t exactly a revolution More of a twitching of the needle Black people have a president, but their bodies still aren t safe.But it s thrilling to read this dispatch from a time when people thought a revolution might be a good thing James Baldwin is one of the great voices of the 20th century, and this book is smashing. At 106 pages, The Fire Next Time is a brief snapshot of U.S race relations in 1963 Like a balance sheet it concisely details the nation s racial strengths and considerable shortcomings It was published one year before LBJ s Great Society program passed Congress, which, for the first time in the nation s history, sought to address longstanding racial injustices Baldwin describes the unrelenting degradation faced by black Americans, both white indifference and murderous hostility toward them, in a spare, unadorned prose whose effect is harrowing At the time of its publication it must have scared bigoted white people shitless Yet it was also a prescription for change, and much of the change it calls for has come to pass That is not to say that today we are without racial problems Black Lives Matter that s irrefutable but if you want to know how truly god awful it was in the bad old lynching days, this is the book, one of the few, that you must read. And all this is happening in the richest and freest country in the world, and in the middle of the 20th century The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur and you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless Baldwin considers this, after he and two friends in their thirties were refused service at a busy bar in O Hare Airport because they were too young The Fire Next Time remains sadly pertinent, despite publication in 1962 The first section, titled My Dungeon Shook Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation, muses on society and exhorts his nephew to meet it with dignity and love The second section, Down at the Cross Letter from a Region in My Mind begins like a memoir, develops into political analysis and ends with a sermon It is devastatingly brilliant, and near the end I found myself highlighting quotes nearly every page But I m clearly not the only one who has read his work one of the oddest aspects for me is that I have read both writers and poets who were influenced by him, as I heard their echoes in his writing How can one, however, dream of power in any other terms then in the symbols of power Baldwin, bringing immediately to mind Audre Lorde The master s tools will never dismantle the master s house Down at the Cross begins from adolescent years, when James was fourteen and underwent a prolonged religious crisis It was a fascinating recounting, giving the feel of Harlem of a particular time, and looked at how religion became the way he coped with the perils of growing up, and yet how, in many ways, it was no less controlling or harmful to the soul than the whores or the pimps or the racketeers on the Avenue For a short time he was known at the boy preacher and while it gave him some freedom from his father, his faith was only an infirm illusion I date it the slow crumbling of my faith, the pulverization of my fortress from the time, about a year after I had begun to preach, when I began to read again I justified this desire by the fact that I was still in school, and I began, fatally, with Dostoevski I loved that words and writing were his real salvation He museson the role of the church and his breaking with religious faith before seguing to a meeting with Elijah Muhammad, recalling me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Baldwin was clearly uncomfortable, confronting his own echoes of churchgoing, but felt the limitations of the Nation of Islam were no better than those of Christianity, ie a failure to dream of something outside the paradigm He noted that the young follower who drove him to his next appointment in an expensive car that the Nation was still conceiving of power in the same terms that white people defined it, and in owning land of their own He was held together, in short, by a dream though it is just as well to remember that some dreams come true and was united with his brothers on the basis of their color Perhaps one cannot ask forPeople always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love, a principle that releases them from personal responsibility He then spirals off into the musing on human nature, the relationship between blacks and whites, and linking them both to the spiritual as well as the political It s an extraordinary achievement, the way one thought leads to the next, and the next, and suddenly you ve run into a philosophical truth that touches the soul The truth I recognized It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death ought to decide, indeed, to earn one s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life One is responsible to life It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return One must negotiate this passage is nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths change in the sense of renewal But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not safety, for example, or money, or power One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayal and the entire home the entire possibility of freedom disappears Somehow, I ve never read James Baldwin Despite a rather liberal high school, we still read far too many of the classics and I, for one, will never read Dickens again College was Women s Studies when I ventured outside the sciences, a reading list universally written by women My free time, fun time reading just never ran into Baldwin, perhaps because I stay away from lit fic like the plague Now that I am finally class free onthan one level, snort , I find myself gravitating towards the occasional non fiction What I discovered is that Baldwin writes lyrical, exacting prose, clear, and yet somehow poetic, with a belief in love and in dreaming better I loved immersing myself in his writing I rather wish I was in a classroom of people with whom I could wrestle with these ideas. This little book had been on my long to read list for many years, but when I heard its first essay, My Dungeon Shook, was the inspiration for Ta Nahisi Coates Between the World and Me, I moved the book right up to the top I am glad I did.At first, though, I was disappointed The essay My Dungeon Shook the model for Coates epistolary device, the way he addresses his young son directly, as Baldwin once addressed his nephew here is short, relatively insignificant compared to Down at the Cross, the essay which fills the rest of the book.Not that My Dungeon Shook is without value It is particularly powerful when it speaks of how racial oppression has caused evendamage to white people than to black people because it has made them unable to see reality as it is They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it They have had to believe for so many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of identity Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflameWell, the black man has functioned in the white man s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. It was, however, Down at the Cross, with its treatment of religion in the black community, that interested meThen, as I was absorbed in Baldwin s account of his childhood growing up in Harlem, I encountered the following passage The fear that I heard in my father s voice, for example, when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other He reacts to the fear in his parents voices because his parents hold up the world for him and he has no protection without themThat summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and controlled my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me, and drove me into the church. Here we see the essence of what Coates learned from Baldwin, to identify the fear which controlled his vision of the world Although he never sought to evade his fears by seeking refuge in the church as Baldwin briefly did, even becoming a boy preacher his fears controlled him nevertheless, and blocked out reality, standing between the world and me I ll end with this passage where Baldwin describes his memories of the church services he led It is, among other things, an excellent example of his style There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multicolored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes, without warning, fill a church, causing the church, as Leadbelly and so many others have testified, to rock Nothing that has happened to me since equals the power and the glory that I sometimes felt when, in the middle of a sermon, I knew that I was somehow, by some miracle, really carrying, as they said, the Word when the church and I were one Their pain and their joy were mine, and mine were theirs they surrendered their pain and joy to me, I surrendered mine to them and their cries of Amen and Hallelujah and Yes, Lord and Praise His name and Preach it, brother sustained and whipped on my solos until we all became equal, wringing wet, singing and dancing, in anguish and rejoicing, at the foot of the altar It was, for a long time, in spite of or, not inconceivably because of the shabbiness of my motives, my only sustenance, my meat and drink I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart Perhaps He did, but I didn t, and the bargain we struck, actually, down there at the foot of the cross, was that He would never let me find out.He failed his bargain He was a much better Man than I took Him for. Fantastic Required reading. If we and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophesy, re created from the Bible in a song by a slave, is upon us God gave Noah the rainbow sign, Nowater, the fire next timeJames Baldwin, The Fire Next TimeI just couldn t watch the second GOP debates tonight I knew I couldn t face the Donald and his band of equally exquisite misfits I m not exactly in love with the Democrats either, but the GOP clown car is just too long, too tiring, too damn depressing So I turned my TV off, tuned out, and read me some James Baldwin You could say Ta Nehisi Coates brought me here after reading Between the World and Me Or perhaps, it has been these last couple years of official violence directed at the poor and the black in many of our biggest cities St Louis, Balti, Las Angeles, New York Or perhaps, I could also say that Baldwin s Go Tell It on the Mountain also brought me here Perhaps, it was reading the Old Testament with my own teenage children that pushed me in this direction Or perhaps, even the promise of the New Testament Maybe, it was my despair over the way that 14 year old Muslim boy was treated with his homemade clock I needed tonight a poetic healing and a spiritual justice An Old Testament warning with a New Testament salve and a black rhythm I needed James Baldwin s force, his poetry, his humanist hope, his infinitely quotable words God, his prose is poetic I literally ran out of post it notes as I read this 106 page thesis, laid at the feet of his namesake nephew God this book was beginning to end sad and moving and powerful and beautiful and so now writing this and glancing at the highlights lowlights of the GOP debates, I can securely say, I made the right damn choice tonight. Written during the battle for Civil Rights in the early 60s, Baldwin s impassioned call to action in The Fire Next Time is unmistakable Racism in America has had a devastating effect on African Americans and White Americans Baldwin challenges us to see past the signs Colored and White which divide us Accepting the artificial barriers of segregation may not be wicked, but denying our fellow citizens dignity is both racist and most assuredly spineless Baldwin claims people cling to their hatred and bigotry because hate gives them a purpose as well as an identity It allows them to deflect the pain of their own lives However, such thinking traps them in a history or story which doesn t make sense and further detaches them from reality States Baldwin, They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand, and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it Baldwin s words are still powerful Still relevant 4.5 starsI m sure I will revisit this again, possibly even quite soon It s short but there is so much to unpack and it s so excellently written I can see why this is a staple of Baldwin s oeuvre and one of the most influential non fiction works of the last century. Baldwin doles out some tough love to the American people, 100 years after Emancipation, and also writes to his 14 year old nephew about the race issue in America I have never read any of Baldwin s nonfiction so I was surprised at how frank and direct he was.The letter to the American people wascompelling to me than the one to his nephew It discussed the racist realities in the USA, and also religion, Christianity which James Baldwin adhered to, for a while at least and the Nation of Islam NOI The meeting he recounted between himself and the NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad, was very interesting Muhammad saw Caucasians as white devils while Baldwin s view was whoever debases others is debasing himself Despite the fact that I am a Christian, I agree wholeheartedly with Baldwin s analysis of the Christian church at the time, its racism black people are a cursed race, descendants of Ham and its hypocrisy It s something I ve thought about a lot.Again, I m shocked about how little things have changed since the 1960s Baldwin makes the point that the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems Sadly, I think we can substitute America with pretty much any country on the planet.Despite the frankness, I don t think this is an angry book at all.This isn t a misguided rant about race, this was written based on Baldwin s personal experiences, and is hopeful and also offers solutions As a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement, I feel Baldwin felt the real need to get things off his chest I will never be able to understand how cruelly African Americans were treated No wonder Baldwin feared for African Americans identity crisis, no wonder he felt the need to encourage and preserve the arts in his community James Baldwin is amazing. A National Bestseller When It First Appeared In , The Fire Next Time Galvanized The Nation And Gave Passionate Voice To The Emerging Civil Rights Movement At Once A Powerful Evocation Of James Baldwin S Early Life In Harlem And A Disturbing Examination Of The Consequences Of Racial Injustice, The Book Is An Intensely Personal And Provocative Document It Consists Of Two Letters, Written On The Occasion Of The Centennial Of The Emancipation Proclamation, That Exhort Americans, Both Black And White, To Attack The Terrible Legacy Of Racism Described By The New York Times Book Review As Sermon, Ultimatum, Confession, Deposition, Testament, And Chronicle All Presented In Searing, Brilliant Prose, The Fire Next Time Stands As A Classic Of Our Literature