James Baldwin’s birthday

Yesterday, 2nd August, would have been James Baldwin’s 93rd birthday. Every bit of his writing that I’ve come across is magnificent. His work made, and continues to make, one of the most profound contribution’s to America’s understanding of itself. Earlier this year I saw, I am not your negro, which was one of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen. Many other people have explained how excellent he is in much better words than I ever could, so I recommend looking it up.

Through the course of idle browsing I came across the following often shared quote, attributed to Baldwin. It took over an hour to determine and locate its original source. This New York Times obituary does not give its source. Several pieces attribute it to ‘The Fire Next Time’, but it was published much earlier, when Baldwin was 31 years old, in Harper’s Magazine in 1955.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

— James Baldwin. “Me and My House” Harper’s Magazine; New York, N.Y.211.1266 (Nov 1, 1955): 54.

The essay is about his fraught relationship with his father, and like everything he wrote is deeply insightful. The context of that quote is important, as is the essay as a whole. I reproduce it here and fully recommend you read the whole thing. Inspirational quotes are too often torn from the context that give them meaning.

P.S. Another google revealed that the reference for this quote was, somewhat embarrassingly, very readily available at Wikiquote. This was perhaps lesson that some things at least aren’t as difficult as first they seem.