Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Fire Next Time

Finished December 27
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This short book was originally published in 1963, and yet so little has changed. The book contains two pieces. The first My Dungeon Shook is a letter to his teenage nephew on the one hundredth anniversary of the emancipation. It talks about the state of racial equality, and how little has improved in that one hundred years. It is a combination of history, social culture, and advice.
The second piece Down at the Cross is a "letter from a region in my mind" as the subtitle says. It includes his own experiences of prejudice, of the rise of black Islam, of the hypocrisy of many white Christians, It has so many sentences that resonate today.
It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum - that is, any reality - so supremely difficult
and
From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete for ever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms.
and
We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement
It is sad that more than fifty years after this was written we still see these as relevant in our world. Very little real progress has been made for blacks in America.
As he says,
America, of all the Western nations, has been best placed to prove the uselessness and the obsolescence of the concept of colour. But it has not dared to accept this opportunity, or even to conceive of it as an opportunity. White Americans have thought of it as their shame, and have envied the more civilized and elegant European nations that were untroubled by the presence of black men on their shores. This is because white Americans have supposed 'Europe' and 'civilization' to be synonyms - which they are not - and have been distrustful of other standards and other sources of vitality, especially those produced in America itself, and have attempted to behave in all matters as though what was east for Europe was also East for them. What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them.
Essential reading.

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