A James Baldwin quote for his birthday -- August 2, 1924
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin As I began to read the first of two letters in this brief book written in 1963, I was struck by the message which seemed to contain elements of hopeless resignation and self-loathing. It was a letter that outlined injustice and placed blame on many shoulders. It openly acknowledged that there were members of the police department who were racist and that there were elements of documented police brutality. It acknowledged that there were fewer opportunities for black people and that most doors were closed to them. It acknowledged that there was an overarching distrust and fear of authority and the police department, most often, with good reason. There was little opportunity to succeed, since most men were reduced to idleness due to a lack of job opportunities for them, even when well trained. Their color locked them out of the system. The women were employed doing menial labor, but they became the breadwinners, for the most part. The men gathered in groups, drank, did drugs and were led into a lifetime of crime when no other opportunity presented itself. This was not the life that Baldwin wanted for himself or his nephew. In the second letter, a broader view of his perspective became evident as he reviewed aspects of his own life. His ideas were colored by his background in the ministry. He realized that his community had no power and he knew that the lack of that power was preventing them from gaining respect. He achieved success by not getting sucked into a system that was designed to betray him. He wrote about The Nation of Islam and its effect on the world view of the “Negro”. The Nation of Islam had suddenly gained prominence and had positively influenced many in his community to live a cleaner life, stay out of prison, refrain from drinking and doing drugs; at the same time, it also preached hate for the “white devil”, demanding that the white world accept the superiority of the blacks in society. This goal to gain power was to be accomplished by any means available to them. When Baldwin wrote about The Nation of Islam, there was definitely a respect for what they had accomplished in inspiring so many to follow a different path, to have hope and to respect themselves, as they should. However, they believed that to accomplish that goal for one group, it must be at the expense of the other. The Nation of Islam believed in violence and in black supremacy. It did not seek equality, but superiority. Baldwin did not subscribe to all of their demands or dreams of a separate nation with land and reparations. He did not wish to disengage from the white culture and live separately. Baldwin hoped for more opportunity and justice in his world, but he did not consider all white people devils, as they did. He did not agree with all of their principles. He did support their goals to empower the “Negro” and their movement to create a hopeful future, instead of a life of despair. He did agree that “Negroes” had not been afforded the opportunity to succeed, had been subjected to a horrific life of slavery, and that a path to a different future for them must be found. The manner and method is what he seemed to differ with, and he did not join their movement. There was, and still is, a great deal of simmering anger that is passed on from generation to generation. There is so much frustration and suffering that continues even today, decades later. Baldwin’s message was prescient since he predicted the election of a black president in the future, and only half a century from the time of his writing, it became a reality. However, although the book was written in the mid sixties, it might just as well have been written yesterday. The anger and the injustice still exist in many arenas. There is still police brutality. There are still advocates of a violent movement to gain power. There are still demands being made that may or may not be realistic. These demands, however, are not yet being met. There are still families that are passing on a legacy of hate, fear and insecurity in the “white devil” community and the “black lives matter” movement. There is still racism, on both sides, but only one side is suffering from the ramifications of such unnecessary, unjustified and unwarranted prejudice.
We've all been there as a kid. You,me, all of us. Chances are we weren't the bully, but we were around when the bully picked his next victim - and we breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't us. Maybe the victims was the new kid. Maybe they dressed different or talked different. Maybe they stuttered or had Coke bottle glasses. Maybe they came from the wrong side of the tracks. It really didn't matter what the reason was that the bully (or bullies) decided to make them a target. That's how bullies operate. And when the bullying starts, they tend to demand that everyone join in with them against the poor bastard or take the chance of having their wrath fall upon you. Peer pressure. Nobody wants to be the victim and their mantra is "if you ain't with us, than you're against us". So, many a kid was sucked into the trap of aiding in the bullying when they really didn't want to. This is the dilemma Dennis finds himself in during summer camp when an old, boyhood friend of his, Wes, is found out that he's gay by the bullies in the group. And what they do Wes, on that lonely summer night in 1989 will chill your blood to ice and send a shiver down your spine.
Odd Man Out is an incredibly realistic tale told by Newman. I mean he absolutely nails it when describing the life of teenage boys in 1989. This story could've had me cast as Dennis, the unwilling participant that felt he had no other choice but to go through with their heinous act. I have a feeling that many of you will feel that you could've been Dennis too. And that's what makes Odd Man Out so effective. It touches a raw nerve because we all could've been unwilling participants in a bullying gone so wrong. An absolute perfect story that you won't be able to put down.
5 bloody hammers out of 5
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Baldwin is one of those authors that I've been meaning to pick up and read for awhile, but I just hadn't gotten around to reading him. After seeing his name pop up elsewhere, I decided it would be a good push for me to actually read something by him. A few months later, I finally picked up the book.
A young man named David is in Paris during the 1950's, unable to decide between the "traditional" life and has an affair with a bartender.
Honestly, that's all I got out of the book. I thought the comparisons to 'Hamlet' were quite apt. The main character can't (or won't) decide what to do and not a lot really happens. He's quite self-centered/unable to look beyond himself. It made for a real "emptiness" to the character that made it impossible to relate to.
I tried really hard to remember that this is a male expatriate in 1950's Paris (obviously I can't relate to that very much) but the writing just seemed so...dated. I feel so terrible for saying this but I honestly didn't find the writing beautiful. I'm not sure if I'm not in the right frame for the book or it's something that's not translating for me (I don't mind classics) or what. I went into this book expecting to like it or at least understand why Baldwin is widely praised. I really didn't get that at all.
I don't know. I don't have any objection to the content itself (the reviews criticizing the fact that the book deals with complicated issues such as sexuality are pretty eye-rolling) but this ended up as another book that I could not understand what the fuss is about. Many people love this and I respect that but I wish I had borrowed this from the library instead.