Author: James Baldwin
Title: The Fire Next Time
Narrator: Jesse L. Martin.
Publication Info: BBC Audiobooks America (2008)
This pair of essays published in 1963 discusses racial relations in the United States at the time and remains depressingly relevant in the present day. Baldwin, in a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, describes what it means to be black in America with unrestrained anger and compassion. The essays also examine the ineffectiveness of religion in dealing with these problems and his disillusionment with Christianity. Baldwin’s analysis of America’s problems – among both white and black people – is unrelenting, but he does offers some hope that people can eschew their narrow beliefs.
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine- but trust your experience. Know whence you came.”
“I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
“I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand — and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”
Recommended books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates