Perhaps life is not the black, unutterably beautiful, mysterious, and lonely thing the creative artist tends to think of it as being; but it is certainly not the sunlit playpen in which so many Americans lose first their identities and then their minds.
I feel very strongly, though, that this amorphous people are in desperate search for something which will help them to re-establish their connection with themselves, and with one another. This can only being to happen as the truth begins to be told. We are in the middle of an immense metamorphosis here, a metamorphosis which will, it is devoutly to be hoped, rob us of our myths and give us our history, which will destroy our attitudes and gives us back our personalities. The mass culture, in the meantime, can only reflect our chaos: and perhaps we had better remember that this chaos contains life – and a great transforming energy.
James Baldwin, 1959.
I read this quote today and was struck by how prophetic Baldwin sounded, both then and now. I can think of no better way to remind everyone to vote, to rally for reasonableness, and to buy this terrific book.
I can’t stop staring at this photo gallery of the US Presidents. There is something about seeing Obama’s face juxtaposed with these other figures, all white, all men. Some of these faces are so iconic – Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln – we meet them every day on our currency, our government seals and documents, our history books. What does it mean to see Obama here? And know that he is now forever a part of our collective American story? What I see is a new confidence in the ideals of this country, a cautious optimisim that goes deeper than the unconvincing platitudes with which we once soothed ourselves or the unrealized anthems we once repeated without thought.
For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
Quite a few blogs and viral emails are circulating with quotes from Langston Hughes in honor of Obama’s tremendous victory. Hughes’s soaring poetics are a fitting way to commemorate the moment, but I think of James Baldwin, who was also quite eloquent in his fierce criticism and love for our nation.