James Baldwin was not only an incredible author, but was also a Civil Rights Activist whom made an astounding impact and ever-lasting influence on the culture of the United States. In his book “The Fire Next Time”, Baldwin discusses the issue of oppression in America in a different light than many of his black brothers and sisters do. To be brief, Baldwin believes that the only way racism and segregation can be resolved, is with love. This comes from within both races, because Baldwin believes that the whites need the blacks, and the blacks need the whites, in order to achieve an America that is not only successful, but truly embodies the face of equality. This thought that Baldwin had has carried over to the present day while we continue to fight for the end of racism. Although racism is still alive in many of the ill hearts of white American’s, many of us carry the seed that Baldwin has planted in our heads as we continue this fight. The idea that we all need to love one another, equally.
In his letter to his nephew, Baldwin stresses to him the importance of not believing what the white people say about him, and that he should not strive to be accepted by the white people, and instead should learn to accept them and do so with love. Baldwin refers to the white people as “countrymen” who are both ignorant and innocent due to the fact that they do not even understand their own history, and just blindly follow the laws that say that the black man is inferior to the white man, and to treat them as so. Baldwin writes, “For these innocent people have no other hope,”(Baldwin 8) emphasizing the fact they are in fact helpless, and unable to look at themselves from the inside, or come to terms with their own history.
This can still be seen in society today. Many people refuse to look at the complete history of America and continue to oppress black people daily. They continue to follow this mindset because they are still so closed minded and “ignorant” as Baldwin says in his book, yet again conveying the importance of understanding his words in today’s culture and society. It is our duty to spread knowledge to these “ignorant” people, to bring peace to black people all throughout America. Where would the country be if we all continued to think in this poisonous mindset?
Baldwin also makes it clear he believes that white and black people need to be brought together. It is obvious that he disagrees even with his black peers looking at the whites as “white devils”, although he understands it and cannot blame them for how they feel. Baldwin writes about how in his opinion, this makes them no different than the white people discriminating them. He also states that “In order for black people to free, white people must be free” (Baldwin 10). It can be concluded that Baldwin strives for an overall unified nation and wants love to be involved at the core of it. He has an extremely important point of view on this topic, especially at that time in history. The two segregated races had exceedingly different views on oppression, which was, and still is very much part of the problem. However, Baldwin’s view is difficult to dispute, and that is the two races need to learn to love and accept one another in- order for a blended, equal nation to be founded. Many American’s today can recognize the truth in Baldwin’s words, and use that mindset in the continued fight for black rights.
Another extremely important take home message that Baldwin discusses in his second essay, “Down at the Cross” is that as black adolescents neared adulthood, their destiny was already predetermined for them. This destiny was that these young black men were going to “rise no higher than their fathers,” (Baldwin 18). He writes this to make sure it is known that white authority placed limitations on the growth of black people, black men particularly. These limitations were placed due to the own insecurities of the “countrymen” and quite simply the fact that they did not want to lose the power that they had over the blacks. Baldwin also illustrates for his readers that many of his peers fell victim to being associated with crime and life on the streets because crime presented itself as a primary possibility for many young black men.
As a result of this, him and many of his peers were often oppressed by police officers even at a young age, much like they still are today. Baldwin recalls for us a statement that a police officer said to him once when he was just 10 years old, “Why don’t you niggers stay uptown where you belong?” (Baldwin 19). Baldwin tells us there was an overwhelming reality that many black men were unable to overcome racism and discrimination simply by playing by the rules and working like white men were able to do. Opportunities were closed off for them before they were even born just because of the color of their skin, and this subsequently set black people up to affirm the white stereotypes; that black people were dangerous criminals. This again, circles back to what Baldwin writes about throughout his entire book, love.
If white Americans learned to not only love themselves, but the black community as well, this cycle of crime and street life that many black folks faced would deem itself as not necessary. This is because white identity and superiority would no longer exist. Unfortunately, this stereotype that all black people are dangerous criminals still exists today. Police officers, people who are supposed to serve and protect play a huge part in the continued portrayal of this stereotype. Baldwin allows for us to recognize this, and his words have played a huge influence on the current fight to end police brutality, mainly against black people.
“The Fire Next Time” is o one of the many books that James Baldwin wrote that has had a continuous, substantial impact on the Civil Rights Movement. His collection of essays in this book offered a look inside to white people on what it is like to be black, which was a major influence on the culture of the United States. The black community is such a huge part of not only our country, but our culture as well. It is crucial for white people to be educated on what life was/is like for them every day. According to biography.com, James Baldwin was, “One of the 20th century’s greatest writers” and, “Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works.” This statement again just reinforces what a huge impact Baldwin has on the racial and social development of the United States of America.
- Baldwin, James, 1924-1987. The Fire next Time. New York :Dial Press, 1963.
- “James Baldwin.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 Jan. 2020,
- www.biography.com/writer/james-baldwin#:~:text=One of the 20th century’s,the black experience in America.