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James Baldwin

Spoken / Video

Buckley Debate At Cambridge

“Baldwin’s Nigger”

Debate With Malcolm X (Audio Only (Can anyone find the full recording? It cuts out at the end.))


Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mark of cruelty.


It is the peculiar triumph of society – and its loss – that it is able to convince those people of whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree; it has the force and the weapons to translated its dictum into fact, so that the allegedly inferior are actually made so, in so far as the societal realities are concerned.

There exists among the intolerable degraded, the perverse and powerful desire to force into the arena of the actual those fantastic crimes of which they have been accused, achieving their vengeance and their own destruction through making the nightmare real.

American Moral Contradictions

Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.

Outsider / Insider Dichotomy

Negroes are Americans and their destiny is the country’s destiny. They have no other experience besides their experience on this continent and it is an experience which cannot be rejected, which yet remains to be embraced. […] What most significantly fails to be illuminated here is the paradoxical adjustment which is perpetually made, the Negro being compelled to accept the fact that this dark and dangerous and unloved stranger is part of himself forever. [It is] this necessary ability to contain and even, in the most honorable sense of the word, to exploit the “nigger,” which lends Negro life its high element of the ironic and which causes the most well-meaning of their American critics to make such exhilarating errors when attempting to understand them.


I am not one of the people who believe that oppression imbues a people with wisdom or insight or sweet charity.

Jewish-Black Relations

There is a subterranean assumption that the Jew should “know better,” that he has suffered enough himself to know what suffering means. […] The Jew, by the nature of his own precarious position, has failed to vindicate this faith. Jews, like Negroes, must use every possible weapon in order to be accepted, and must try to cover their vulnerability by a frenzied adoption of the customs of the country; and the nation’s treatment of Negroes is unquestionably a custom. The Jew has been taught—and, too often, accepts—the legend of Negro inferiority; and the Negro, on the other hand, has found nothing in his experience with Jews to counteract the legend of Semitic greed. Here the American white Gentile has two legends serving him at once: he has divided these minorities and he rules.

But just as a society must have a scapegoat, so hatred must have a symbol. Georgia has the Negro and Harlem has the Jew.

Tags: jamesbaldwin , social