The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!” – Negro Spiritual

Baldwin doles out some tough love to the American people, 100 years after Emancipation, and also writes to his 14-year old nephew about the race issue in America. I have never read any of Baldwin’s nonfiction so I was surprised at how frank and direct he was.

The letter to the American people was more compelling to me than the one to his nephew. It discussed the racist realities in the USA, and also religion, Christianity (which James Baldwin adhered to, for a while at least) and the Nation of Islam (NOI). The meeting he recounted between himself and the NOI leader, Elijah Muhammad, was very interesting. Muhammad saw Caucasians as “white devils” while Baldwin’s view was “whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

Despite the fact that I am a Christian, I agree wholeheartedly with Baldwin’s analysis of the Christian church at the time, its racism (black people are a cursed race, descendants of Ham) and its hypocrisy. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot.

Again, I’m shocked about how little things have changed since the 1960s. Baldwin makes the point that: “…the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems.” Sadly, I think we can substitute “America” with pretty much any country on the planet.

Despite the frankness, I don’t think this is an angry book at all.This isn’t a misguided rant about race, this was written based on Baldwin’s personal experiences, and is hopeful and also offers solutions. As a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement, I feel Baldwin felt the real need to get things off his chest. I will never be able to understand how cruelly African-Americans were treated. No wonder Baldwin feared for African-Americans’ identity crisis, no wonder he felt the need to encourage and preserve the arts in his community. James Baldwin is amazing.


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