James Baldwin’s 3 thoughts on society


James Baldwin, born in 1924, was an author and social critic. He was a gay black man living during a time when racism and homophobia were still very strong. He had many thoughts and criticisms about this time. Here are three of them:

1) “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

“What goes around, comes back around,” is pretty much what Baldwin is trying to say here. If you continuously treat people horribly and as less than equals, one day, the bullied will rally together and fight back. And sometimes, they’ll do more than protest –they may try to overthrow you to take back their power.

The oppressed are not going to just sit still in a corner, and let the oppressor beat and drag them down forever. They will eventually find the strength to stand up and fight back.

2) “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Have you ever noticed how, when someone does something wrong or bad, but doesn’t realize it until another person points out that what they did was wrong, and then they feel guilty? This is kind of what Baldwin is trying to say.

With this thought, Baldwin is saying that some people, either consciously or subconsciously, remain ignorant on purpose because if they open their minds and be empathetic, they will feel crappy about themselves for being bigoted. So to shield themselves from this pain, they continue to be stubborn and close-minded; they continue to hate people and things that don’t warrant hate rather than trying to understand those that they hate.




3) “You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.”

A lot of the time, young and naïve people will think that society is out to only get them, or that bad things only happen to them. And this sucks for that person because he/she doesn’t have a group to support him/her. But once they find out that this hate or oppression has happened to others, and is still happening, they feel liberated. And the reason why they feel this way is because, first, they are now not alone. Second, they now can connect and learn from the others who have also been oppressed.

This is why Baldwin believes that art, such as stories, are so important to society. Stories paint images of life and the struggles that come with it and shows how people overcome difficulties. These stories can act as guides for the young and naïve who think that they are alone in this world.

Which quote resonated with you most? Share it in the comments below.

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