Top 50+ James Baldwin Quotes

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james baldwin quotes

James Baldwin was a writer born in America on the 2nd August 1924, who was a prolific novelist, poet, essayist and playwright, as well as an activist for civil rights and gay rights. His first notable contribution was a set of essays that can be found in the collection titled Notes of a Native Son, which explored race, sexuality and class divide in both North America and the wider world, during the mid 20th century. It is important to note that these essays were not short opinion pieces but many were the length of books and some unfinished work was found, highlighting his work ethic and productivity.

Perhaps one of his most famous pieces was the novel If Beale Street Could Talk, which has been adapted into a 2018 film, winning Academy Awards. This novel and his other stories have similar themes running throughout of sexuality, race and class, often intermixed with complex dilemas to create narratives that fit into many periods of modern American history, such as the civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement. The fact that the majority of his lead characters were African American and some gay or bisexual, reinforces the idea that Baldwin wanted to delve deep into the injustice that was rife at the time.

Check out a range of quotations attributed to the great man below.

1. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

2. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

3. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

4. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

5. “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.”

6. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

7. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

8. “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.”

9. “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

10. “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”

11. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be”

12. “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

13. “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”

14. “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

15. “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. ”

16. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

17. “People can cry much easier than they can change.”

18. “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

19. “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”

20. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”

21. “People don’t have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you’re dead, when they’ve killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn’t have any character. They weep big, bitter tears – not for you. For themselves, because they’ve lost their toy.”

22. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”

23. “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”

24. “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

25. “People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”

26. “You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.”

27. “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

28. “You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

29.“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

30.“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”

31. “True rebels after all, are as rare as true lovers,and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life”

32. “Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity”

33. “To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

34. “Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality. ”

35. “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

36. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

37. “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.”

38. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.”

39. “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state on innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

40. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore”

41. “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

42.“For I am—or I was—one of those people who pride themselves in on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all—a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named—but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not. This is certainly what my decision, made so long ago in Joey’s bed, came to. I had decided to allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened me. I succeeded very well—by not looking at the universe, by not looking at myself, by remaining, in effect, in constant motion.”

43. “You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”

44. “Tell me, he said, “What is this thing about time? Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. what are they waiting for?”

45. “Well […] I guess people wait in order to make sure of what they feel.”

“And when you have waited—-has it made you sure?”

46. “Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

47. “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”

48. “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. ”

49. “I often wonder what I’d do if there weren’t any books in the world.”

50. “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”

51. “The poet or the revolutionary is there to articulate the necessity, but until the people themselves apprehend it, nothing can happen … Perhaps it can’t be done without the poet, but it certainly can’t be done without the people. The poet and the people get on generally very badly, and yet they need each other. The poet knows it sooner than the people do. The people usually know it after the poet is dead; but that’s all right. The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.”

52. “People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.”

53. “Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home.”

54. “If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody.”

55. “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.”

56. “Hatred is always self hatred, and there is something suicidal about it.”

57. “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”

58. “The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains.”

59. “Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”

60. “Somebody,” said Jacques, “your father or mine, should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest places! – for the lack of it.”

– James Baldwin

 

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