Last month, I decided to read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. This book comprises of two essays. One was written as a letter for his nephew and one reflects on his experiences in life. The book is insightful and enlightening. However, it could be dense at times. You really have to take your time to really receive what Baldwin is discussing in his essays.
In the first essay titled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation“, is a letter to Baldwin’s nephew. In this “letter” Baldwin compares his nephew to the men in their family including Baldwin’s brother and father. He discusses how America has the ability to destroy Black men. He stated that they intended for him to perish in the ghetto. He went to say that there limitations placed upon him simply because he is black. In this particular essay/letter, it discussed a lot of which young, black face in America still face.. Trying to cope with having limitations being placed onto them in a way where they cannot succeed in way that white people can in society. The clip of Viola Davis below speaks to this exact difficulty of trying to excel, aspire and flourish in America as a black person.
“Down at the Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind” is the title of the second essay. The second essay discussed ideas and views that pertained to religion, rebuilding the black community, politics and more. Baldwin’s reflection on his time as a teen pastor was interesting. He wasn’t necessarily a pastor because he was devoted to Christianity it was more so about finding a place that didn’t put him in the streets as well as competing with his father. He eventually separated from the church once he becomes a young adult and loses his faith. Baldwin also discussed the conflict with how Christianity was introduced to Black people by focusing on how it was portrayed by white people to black people during slavery.
Moreover, James Baldwin discussed his dinner with Elijah Muhammad who was a Nation of Islam leader. He touched on how the followers of the Nation of Islam found comfort in the religion because they created a “Black” god to avoid the oppression of the “white” god in Christianity. One thing that Baldwin discussed which I thought was valid is the radicalism of the group. Muhammad intended to recruit Baldwin at this dinner. It was made clear to Baldwin that this particular group’s view was a bit too radical and not conducive to moving the black community forward.
Baldwin also discussed the level of spiritual resiliency it takes for Black people to carry on in a country where we are constantly demeaned in every way possible. He also stated that it is up to those of us who are conscious to end the racial nightmare.
This book was originally published in 1963 yet it feels like Deja vu. It’s still relevant today and if things continue on this pattern of racism, racial inequality, police brutality, and institutional/systemic racism it will be relevant for years to come.