October 7, 2011
FREE, BUT "IN A SENSE WHICH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH JUSTICE"
James Baldwin, Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son; Nobody Knows My Name; The Fire Next Time; No Name in the Street; The Devil Finds Work; Other Essays , edited by Toni Morrison (New York: Library of America, 1998) (From " Princes and Powers": "The Conference of Negro-African Writers and Artist (Le Congres des Ecrivains et Artistes Noirs) opened on Wednesday, September 19, 1956, in the Sorbonne's Amphitheatre Descartes, in Paris. . . ." Id. at 143, 143. "For what, at bottom, distinguished the Americans from the Negroes who surrounded us, men from Nigeria, Senegal, Barbados, Martinique--so many names for so many disciplines--was the banal and abruptly quite overwhelming fact that we had been born in a society, which, in a way quite inconceivable for Africans, and no longer real for Europeans, was open, and in a sense which has nothing to do with justice or injustice, was free. It was a society, in short, in which nothing was fixed and we had therefore been born to a great number of possibilities, wretched as these possibilities seemed at the instant of our birth. Moreover, the land of our forefathers' exile had been made, by that travail, our home. It may have been the popular impulse to keep us at the bottom of the perpetually shifting and bewildered populace; but we were, on the other hand, almost personally indispensable to each of them, simply because, without us, they could never have been certain, in such confusion, where the bottom was; and nothing, in any case, could take away our title to the land which we, too, had purchased with our blood. This results in a psychology very different--at its best and at its worst--from the psychology which is produced by a sense of having been invaded and overrun, the sense of having no recourse whatever against oppression other than overthrowing the machinery of the oppressor. We had been dealing with, had been made and mangled by, another machinery altogether. It has never been our interest to overthrow it. It had been necessary to make the machinery work for our benefit and the possibility of its doing so had been, so to speak, built in." Id. at 147-148. From "The Devil Finds Work: An Essay": "The blacks have a song which says, I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do." No American film, relating to blacks can possibly incorporate this observation. This observation--set to music, as are so many black observations--denies, simply, the validity of the legend which is responsible for these films: films which exist for the sole purpose of perpetuating the legend." Id. at 477, 522.).