James Baldwin’s Courage

Writer James Baldwin

I once wrote a research paper off the top of my head. You might think this story’s tragic end is that I got an F. Actually I earned an A and was chosen to read my paper to the entire class as a model for what the professor was looking for. I had a bibliography of books that I had read and a PBS video that I repeatedly watched over the years. These supported my biography of the life and writings of American author James Baldwin (1924-1987), a man who lived deep in my soul. He historically has been my favorite writer.

Some of you may be squinting right now, wondering what my attraction to an ex-boy preacher and openly gay man could be. And others of you more familiar with his life and mine may even wonder how I, a trustworthy woman, could revere a man who had a hard time being reliable. But beyond his sins and greater than his literary symphonies were lessons I have learned that some of his quotations helped to spur:

• “You didn’t tell me, I told you” (PBS’ American Masters)—speaking about his open homosexuality.

Be honest about who you are and don’t let people discover things about you then throw them in your face. Then and only then can people decide how to deal with you, and you can get help for those areas of struggle (2 Corinthians 8:21; James 5:16).

• “(P)eople who cannot suffer, can never grow up, can never discover who they are” (The Fire Next Time)—referring to how blacks’ enduring suffering has made them better as a people.

If your acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is real, you will suffer because of your belief, making you stronger and proving that you are in the faith (Matthew 5:10-12; 2 Timothy 2:3-12; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

• “There was absolutely no way not to be black without ceasing to exist. But it frequently seemed that there was no way to be black, either, without ceasing to exist” (Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone).

As a black American, you are often in a Catch-22 situation. If you ignore the racial part of you (by not talking about race and altering Negroid features because you hate them), you essentially kill who God created you to be. On the other hand, if you fully embrace the racial aspect of who you are, frequently examining and talking about race and honoring your Negroid features, you become something other than black—TOO BLACK, or simply ignored; you, too, cease to exist.

As a Christian, you may consider yourself in a Catch-22 if you are a people pleaser. If you deny your faith, say to appease others, you cease to exist (or never existed) as a Christian (Jesus will deny you—Matthew 10:33). But on the other hand, when you speak loud about your faith in Jesus Christ, others deny you; you may cease to exist to your “friends” and “family.” Either way, people pleaser or not, you cease to exist when you seek to serve Christ (Matthew 5:10-12).

Writer/activist James Baldwin spoke loud about who he was and what he believed. People knew what they were getting when they met him. Do people know who they are receiving when they meet you? Do you speak loud about being a Christian and your belief that Jesus Christ is God? If not, I encourage you to get to talking and being the righteous seed you claim to be.

Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith

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One response to “James Baldwin’s Courage

  1. Good word honey! You have expertly mined the deep truths found in Mr. Baldwin’s statements.

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