I am angry. But I am also hopeful. That may be all that I share with James Baldwin, who was an exquisitely eloquent, talented, observant and courageous writer and advocate for equality, though perhaps sharing just that is enough.
Last week I attended a special screening of the documentary James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket at Film Streams with the directors Karen Thorsen and Douglas K. Dempsey conducting a post-screening discussion. The event was part of Conversations with Jimmy, a nationwide outreach and engagement initiative using screenings, discussions and public forum with the film as catalyst.
The film demonstrates that Baldwin’s voice was a clarion call then, in times of deep racial strife, yet tragically remains as relevant today as it did before his death in 1987. It takes little effort to note the systemic inequality and discrimination in America and its consequences for the disintegration of community ties, distrust between diverse peoples and a discordance in our relationships.
I’m sick and tired of that unfairness. Then again, as a white man, I have no reason to be bitter. I cannot deny that privileges fall to me simply because of that state of being. Reading social and other media, however, it is easy to find others who suggest they in turn are tired of “feeling guilty” about being white. The concept of white privilege is too broad for this post, but Baldwin’s words echo today when he asked how much time have we, the white majority, demanded of blacks and other minorities for their progress? One generation was not enough. Two, three, more…
For all the brutality of a bigoted system, Baldwin was not a voice for violence, albeit that he was, as Amiri Baraka eulogized, “God’s black revolutionary mouth.” Instead, Baldwin felt a keen brotherhood could and should exist between everyone. Baldwin left the pulpit to preach his eloquent vision of unity. He used his voice and his pen to spread that word. There is reason still to be outraged, but if Baldwin can say, “I really do believe that we can all become better than we are,” there must be a belief in positive possibility. My belief is that conversation is a means by which we can all live better and well, together and as self-aware individuals. I use conversation to reacquaint us with the commonality of the human experience and, in so doing, our solidarity in being alive, together. In this small way, I hope to contribute to the aspirations expressed and lived by Baldwin.
“The world is held together, really it is held together, by the love and the passion of a very few people,” said Baldwin. Through conversation we might increase those numbers who choose that fellowship.