Saturday, September 15, 2012

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions: When Baldwin wrote "All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique" in Esquire magazine in April 1960, he captured the essence of the artist's soul. But being black in mid-twentieth-century America certainly challenged Baldwin's artistic intellect. First, how was he to be taken seriously as an African-American writer? And second, did the United States even have a future purpose for African Americans? The last question, in particular, haunted Baldwin, as he could not envision an America where blacks achieved full democratic equality in the midst of a modern industrial society, i.e., affordable (suburban) homes, good (integrated) schools, middle-class jobs with fringe benefits, and access to public accommodations. In his 1963 essay collection The Fire Next Time, Baldwin offered his diagnosis of American race relations, which contained many elements of Du Boisian integrationism. He stated, "And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it." And although the prospects for racial integration were slim under Jim Crow, a black acceptance of whites (and their history) seemed the only plausible path toward equality. For most middle-class whites were still trapped in a history that they did not yet understand.

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