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Letter from a Region in My Mind by James Baldwin (1962)

Author: James Baldwin

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Jul 25
Kiran C (Jul 25 2020 4:13PM) : Listen to this essay while you read. [Edited] more

FAST FORWARD TO MINUTE 11:58 <-
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COPY AND PASTE THIS LINK INTO A NEW TAB: https://nowcomment.com/documents/114887
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newyorker.com/magazine/1962/11/17/letter-from-a-region-in-my-mind
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Oct 15
XIONI C (Oct 15 2018 11:51AM) : Black people were hated simply because of their color !
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Oct 16
CHARISSA C (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : Exactly black people were very easily hated on the way they act, color , the way they dressed etc.....
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Oct 15
XIONI C (Oct 15 2018 11:52AM) : No one in the world is the same because if everyone was it will be boring and maybe even start even more problems
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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 11:57AM) : Why is he writing on the floor?
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Oct 23
Kaimea Z (Oct 23 2020 10:23AM) : what's in his notebook?
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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 11:58AM) : why did he make that face expressions ?
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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 11:59AM) : whAT IS HE WRITING ? more

writing

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Photograph by Bettmann / Corbis
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Take up the White Man’s burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 11:29AM) : Religious at fourteen
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Oct 15
TONY V (Oct 15 2018 11:41AM) : Its true
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Oct 15
KIRALYN M (Oct 15 2018 11:45AM) : they (blacks) are compared to whites in a bad way or "placed" under them because whites are "better" than them.
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Oct 16
JAILYN M (Oct 16 2018 10:45AM) : What do you mean by "placed" under them? [Edited]
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Oct 16
Myah (Oct 16 2018 10:46AM) : what do you mean by placed under ? [Edited]
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Oct 16
KEVIN Z (Oct 16 2018 10:53AM) : questions more

whites were placed before the blacks

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Oct 16
Laura L (Oct 16 2018 11:00AM) : It's basically like a tier. The whites would be on top because they are more superior, since they have all the better resources. Blacks are being "placed" under since they aren't as successful as whites. They don't have the same backgrounds and advantages
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 10:46AM) : Black people are at the bottom therefore they take on the white mans burden more

(Take up the white mans burden
Black people are emotional outlets for white people. if a white person had a bad day in the 1950’s they’d simply take it out on a black person.

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Oct 16
KEVIN Z (Oct 16 2018 10:47AM) : she is saying that if the black and whites were to be compared, the whites would always win, because the blacks are bad, and white are better then them. more

this is sad but true comment, and idk why but whites “consider” them better the then the blacks

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Oct 16
ARIEL L (Oct 16 2018 10:49AM) : Black people took on most of the whitepeoples problems more

Black people were placed as weaker than white people because of the stereoypes that black people are dangerous also because black people have taken on a lot of burdens so it does make white people more superior because it seems as though they have everything together because black people take on all of their problems

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Oct 16
LIZANDRO O (Oct 16 2018 11:03AM) : white people think they are superior then black people more

most of the stereotypes are still here to this day they change the way we look at trust in of people with color and we think less of them

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Oct 16
Henry P (Oct 16 2018 11:10AM) : thats a very large assumption.
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 11:12AM) : Black people's position more

black people are a fixed statue in the white mans world

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Oct 16
Julissa (Oct 16 2018 10:52AM) : I agree with you because white people believed that they were better then the black people and have more control over them. And that made is seem like black people were below whites.
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Oct 16
JAILYN M (Oct 16 2018 10:54AM) : Exactly, white people think that they have more power than blacks
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Oct 16
CHARISSA C (Oct 16 2018 11:03AM) : facts. white people think there all that!
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Oct 16
Princesa (Oct 16 2018 11:08AM) : yep i agree
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Oct 16
Princesa (Oct 16 2018 11:04AM) : same i agree bc of what history the blacks went through
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Oct 16
Laura L (Oct 16 2018 10:56AM) : People of color has disadvantages compared to whites based on their skin color. more

I believe that if the people of color were given the same settings as whites, they would be able to succeed as much as whites. But, even if everyone was given the same circumstances, it is up to the person to “struggle”.

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Oct 16
Maximiliana (Oct 16 2018 11:13AM) : what do you mean by "settings" do you mean environment? or Economic status?
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Oct 16
NEILIA C (Oct 16 2018 10:56AM) : I agree.
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Oct 16
Princesa (Oct 16 2018 10:59AM) : maybe it is trying to say like colord people may go through struggles and whites are like more withouth worries
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Oct 16
JAHDALYN R (Oct 16 2018 11:04AM) : what do you mean as "Placed under them"
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Oct 15
KIRALYN M (Oct 15 2018 11:45AM) : Blacks were "weak" but went through way more of a struggle than the whites ever did.
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Oct 16
ARIEL L (Oct 16 2018 10:39AM) : I think it means that black people went through more struggles than white people ever did but were never able to be free
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Oct 16
JAHDALYN R (Oct 16 2018 11:11AM) : I totally agree because it's the truth. That some people need to know
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Oct 16
KEVIN Z (Oct 16 2018 10:51AM) : blacks struggled more then the whites did more

why would the whites be (basically) be free to whatever they want, but blacks cant do 1 thing?

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Oct 16
Julissa (Oct 16 2018 10:59AM) : RIGHT!! Like if black people were so weak then why were they slaves for white people and produced most of the things they needed for them. And whenever black people do something so great, white people almost always swoops in to take the credit.
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Oct 16
CHARISSA C (Oct 16 2018 10:59AM) : Blacks were basically treated very differently than whites , that why you are saying that they struggle way more than whites
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Oct 15
KIRALYN M (Oct 15 2018 11:51AM) : Cry in silence so the Whites don't know that your hurt?
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Oct 16
SAPPHIRE N (Oct 16 2018 10:50AM) : "Cry in silence so the Whites don't know that your hurt." more

This could represent someone hiding their true feelings in a “happy” MASK and not showing them your true feeling and see you as a weak person.

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Oct 16
Julissa (Oct 16 2018 11:15AM) : This could be saying that if you cry louder and complain, make yourself known, the white people will come after you and hurt you and treat you like you are nothing.
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Oct 15
KIRALYN M (Oct 15 2018 11:58AM) : "Ye dare not stoop less" Don't go to someone else level if it isn't better than yours.
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Oct 16
SAPPHIRE N (Oct 16 2018 10:55AM) : "Don't go to someone else level if it isn't better than yours." more

They (Whites) want to see us break down and see us weak. But we must not stoop to their level so we don’t make them feel RIGHT about their judgements of us (Blacks.)

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Oct 16
Julissa (Oct 16 2018 11:13AM) : This basically means the white people shouldn't "disrespect" their white people by having any acquaintances with the black people, because they are no where near our level. They are poor and animals and we are better than them, so don't talk to them.
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Oct 16
CHARISSA C (Oct 16 2018 10:46AM) : What does she mean by "whites are "better" than them"?
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Oct 16
SAPPHIRE N (Oct 16 2018 10:59AM) : What does she mean by "Whites are better than them?" more

Maybe she means the whites have more power than blacks, they are inferior. ( we blacks have lower standers.)

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Oct 16
Giselle (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : What does he mean by "white man's burden"?
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Oct 16
JOSELYN G (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : there are friends that might influence his decisions because they r bad influence...hmmmm
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Oct 16
LIZANDRO O (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : its a poem more

i wonder if when they tried to be free did they continue trying are did they give up

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Oct 16
Laura L (Oct 16 2018 11:14AM) : I think they took a L in life, because they are starting later than the whites.
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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 10:27AM) : When it says let your cries be silent and to hide your weariness it basically saying to Black Man and Women to not show any weakness To white people. Don't let them have power over you. [Edited]
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Oct 20
Isabell Z (Oct 20 2020 11:05AM) : This one sentence has lot of meanings to it, that was happening in the past. [Edited]
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Oct 23
Kaimea Z (Oct 23 2020 10:34AM) : what does he mean by weigh your gods and you? does he mean weighing the gods and people with guilt for not interfering? [Edited]
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—Kipling.

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Down at the cross where my Saviour died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,
There to my heart was the blood applied,
Singing glory to His name!

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Oct 15
RYAN N (Oct 15 2018 8:42AM) : Christian more

He is christian so he’s talking about jesus that died for us as a saviour

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—Hymn.

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I underwent, during the summer that I became fourteen, a prolonged religious crisis. I use “religious” in the common, and arbitrary, sense, meaning that I then discovered God, His saints and angels, and His blazing Hell. And since I had been born in a Christian nation, I accepted this Deity as the only one. I supposed Him to exist only within the walls of a church—in fact, of ourchurch—and I also supposed that God and safety were synonymous. The word “safety” brings us to the real meaning of the word “religious” as we use it. Therefore, to state it in another, more accurate way, I became, during my fourteenth year, for the first time in my life, afraid—afraid of the evil within me and afraid of the evil without. What I saw around me that summer in Harlem was what I had always seen; nothing had changed. But now, without any warning, the whores and pimps and racketeers on the Avenue had become a personal menace. It had not before occurred to me that I could become one of them, but now I realized that we had been produced by the same circumstances. Many of my comrades were clearly headed for the Avenue, and my father said that I was headed that way, too. My friends began to drink and smoke, and embarked—at first avid, then groaning—on their sexual careers. Girls, only slightly older than I was, who sang in the choir or taught Sunday school, the children of holy parents, underwent, before my eyes, their incredible metamorphosis, of which the most bewildering aspect was not their budding breasts or their rounding behinds but something deeper and more subtle, in their eyes, their heat, their odor, and the inflection of their voices. Like the strangers on the Avenue, they became, in the twinkling of an eye, unutterably different and fantastically present. Owing to the way I had been raised, the abrupt discomfort that all this aroused in me and the fact that I had no idea what my voice or my mind or my body was likely to do next caused me to consider myself one of the most depraved people on earth. Matters were not helped by the fact that these holy girls seemed rather to enjoy my terrified lapses, our grim, guilty, tormented experiments, which were at once as chill and joyless as the Russian steppes and hotter, by far, than all the fires of Hell.

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Oct 15
RYAN N (Oct 15 2018 11:32AM) : GROWN GIRLS more

THE GRILLS WOULD TRY AND TRAP THE BOYS SOULS IN MARRIAGE AND THE GIRLS WERE ALL HOLY

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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:41AM) : nope.
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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 11:37AM) : he's a religous guy
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Oct 15
ROSNEYRI R (Oct 15 2018 11:42AM) : he became religious at the age of fourteen
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Oct 15
TONY V (Oct 15 2018 11:55AM) : When Baldwin turned 14, he discovered God and Hell and experienced an internal crisis. more

How will this affect him overall?

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Oct 15
Finn L (Oct 15 2018 11:26AM) : he became religious at the age of 14 [Edited] more

swag

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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:33AM) : he did that to avoid becoming like the people that he encountered that were becoming what white people expected
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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 10:39AM) : wow you just summed up the whole paragraph, I totally agree with you.
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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 2:57PM) : And i think he became aware of a lot of things at 14 like racism
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Oct 15
Jhon (Oct 15 2018 11:41AM) : At the age of fourteen he was really religious, longer than usual. He was religious for a long time. more

Something must have happened for him to be religious longer than usual, he must’ve seen or experienced something.

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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 11:42AM) : It's probably puberty.
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Oct 15
Finn L (Oct 15 2018 11:47AM) : Who becomes religious from puberty?! [Edited]
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 8:55AM) : What was his prolonged religious crisis?
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Oct 16
Matthew (Oct 16 2018 11:11AM) : what is this blazing hell he speaks of?????????????????
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Oct 15
MEHRAB C (Oct 15 2018 11:26AM) : That he went to one of the major religions. [Edited] more

as things around him changer he found asylum in the church. as it is a very common religion in the US.

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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:43AM) : he found what??? an asylum is a mental institution and i don't think thats what you meant...
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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:45AM) : wait nvm
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Oct 15
MEHRAB C (Oct 15 2018 11:45AM) : by asylum i mean the protection given by place away form the shit "on the Avenue". [Edited]
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Oct 15
Finn L (Oct 15 2018 11:47AM) : asylum means protection
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Oct 15
RYAN N (Oct 15 2018 11:26AM) : Safety more

you have safety in your own religion and you don’t have to worry about things that can harm you in your own space

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Oct 16
Myah (Oct 16 2018 10:50AM) : he finds safety in his religion
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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:21AM) : They started to become more prevalent in his everyday life [Edited]
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Oct 16
Myah (Oct 16 2018 10:55AM) : hes trying to say that everyone started to change in a negative way
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Oct 15
NYA P (Oct 15 2018 11:31AM) : James realized that he could also become all of the bad things that he saw on the street if he did not occupy himself.
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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 11:51AM) : realizing this so young was probably what saved him form become as such
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Oct 16
Henry P (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : People don't understand that humans naturally adapt to situations, and if someone where to surround themselves with another thing it would be natural for that person to start acting in a similar way.
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Oct 16
Myah (Oct 16 2018 10:58AM) : this is another example on how people started to act rebellious
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Oct 16
ARIEL L (Oct 16 2018 11:06AM) : James Baldwin was talking about maybe how girls were going through puberty more

My thoughts is that he was seeing how people that he grew up with were changing like through puberty and starting to work on their careers and being proffesional to not let white people have a reason to stereotype them

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Oct 16
Kiran C (Oct 16 2018 9:04AM) : As a 14-year old, Baldwin was overcome with horror and shame at his arousal. All of a sudden he couldn't control his body more

He was raised by his strict, Pentacostal Christian stepfather, who beat him. His stepfather probably told him he was punishing him in the name of God to teach him to be a better Christian. Baldwin was a church boy, the son of a preacher. He was going through puberty, and couldn’t help being attracted to other people who also had raging hormones.

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Oct 16
ASHLEY P (Oct 16 2018 10:36AM) : Perhaps he was abused as he was growing up. "Owing " meaning he might have been hurt physically or emotionally.
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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 10:52AM) : I think Baldwin is going through puberty and he is afraid he's going to end up on the streets and do evil things that he could've never imagine him doing.
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Oct 21
SANIYA L (Oct 21 2020 8:08PM) : he is scared of what he can become because he is witnessing everyone else change around him.
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Oct 15
RYAN N (Oct 15 2018 11:34AM) : THE GIRLS LIKE BAD BOYS more

THE GIRLS LIKE THE RELAPSES THAT THE MEN HAVE THE DIFFICULT TIME THEY GO THROUGH HOTTER THAN FIRES OF HELLS

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Oct 15
Finn L (Oct 15 2018 11:42AM) : THEY FEED OFF SUFFERING

People more advantageously placed than we in Harlem were, and are, will no doubt find the psychology and the view of human nature sketched above dismal and shocking in the extreme. But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live. His own condition is overwhelming proof that white people do not live by these standards. Negro servants have been smuggling odds and ends out of white homes for generations, and white people have been delighted to have them do it, because it has assuaged a dim guilt and testified to the intrinsic superiority of white people. Even the most doltish and servile Negro could scarcely fail to be impressed by the disparity between his situation and that of the people for whom he worked; Negroes who were neither doltish nor servile did not feel that they were doing anything wrong when they robbed white people. In spite of the Puritan-Yankee equation of virtue with well-being, Negroes had excellent reasons for doubting that money was made or kept by any very striking adherence to the Christian virtues; it certainly did not work that way for black Christians. In any case, white people, who had robbed black people of their liberty and who profited by this theft every hour that they lived, had no moral ground on which to stand. They had the judges, the juries, the shotguns, the law—in a word, power. But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected, and to be outwitted in any way whatever. And those virtues preached but not practiced by the white world were merely another means of holding Negroes in subjection.

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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 11:31AM) : Still calls them negros
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Oct 15
NYA P (Oct 15 2018 11:33AM) : The two different races lived by different standards in the same world
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Oct 15
NEILIA C (Oct 15 2018 11:48AM) : does this mean negro's have no respect in the white world?
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Oct 15
Jhon (Oct 15 2018 11:56AM) : There can't be respect for the "white world" because of the way the standards in which the withe world declares to live. more

The phrase “White world” might have been repeated to show that this world in which black and white people live in white people are kind of above black people and black people aren’t respected.

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Oct 21
SANIYA L (Oct 21 2020 8:15PM) : He doesnt respect the standards whites have made because they have proven to him that they dont go by their word (they dont live by the standards)
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 8:59AM) : What does he mean when he says "cannot possible create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live"
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Oct 16
Matthew (Oct 16 2018 11:12AM) : so white people are ok to have their things taken from them because it proves that white people are superior.
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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 11:17AM) : I think this means that when A black servant for a white family who probably made 1 cent a week smuggles good from white people they let them do it just so they can show that white people are more superior.
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 10:35AM) : White people profited of of black people had no morals more

white people stood tall on their moral values yet profited off of black people so therefore they have no morals

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Oct 16
Maximiliana (Oct 16 2018 11:01AM) : Shows how if the power is swayed to one biased side, nothing will change or get better for those persecuted by the majority. [Edited] more

a justice system is of no use when one party has all the power; ie. when the jury, judge, prosecutor, and plaintiff are all of the same opinion, then the court room might as well be a executioner’s block.

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It turned out, then, that summer, that the moral barriers that I had supposed to exist between me and the dangers of a criminal career were so tenuous as to be nearly nonexistent. I certainly could not discover any principled reason for not becoming a criminal, and it is not my poor, God-fearing parents who are to be indicted for the lack but this society. I was icily determined—more determined, really, than I then knew—never to make my peace with the ghetto but to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me, before I would accept my “place” in this republic. I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was, and limit me that way, and polish me off that way. And yet, of course, at the same time, I wasbeing spat on and defined and described and limited, and could have been polished off with no effort whatever. Every Negro boy—in my situation during those years, at least—who reaches this point realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a “thing,” a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is. It was this last realization that terrified me and—since it revealed that the door opened on so many dangers—helped to hurl me into the church. And, by an unforeseeable paradox, it was my career in the church that turned out, precisely, to be my gimmick.

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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 9:48AM) : he refuses to let the white people get in his way and refuses to let the white people put him down. more

why is he mentioning about white people a lot ?

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Oct 15
ROSNEYRI R (Oct 15 2018 9:58AM) : he thinks that white people are criminals more

yesssssssssssss

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Oct 15
NICOLE C (Oct 15 2018 9:38AM) : There was very little stopping him from being a criminal. more

Did white people have barriers to prevent them for being a criminal?

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Oct 15
SHAYLA T (Oct 15 2018 9:49AM) : nopw more

nope

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Oct 15
ANGELIQUE A (Oct 15 2018 9:56AM) : I think that white people were so privileged that everything they did was looked over which can be viewed as a "barrier" of some sorts
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Oct 25
SANIYA L (Oct 25 2020 6:17PM) : I agree, whites were so privileged that if they did something wrong there would be no punishment, but if a black person was to do it there would be a issue, and thats sad
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Oct 15
NYA P (Oct 15 2018 9:34AM) : He refused to become what people thought he should be and as time went out he got farther and farther away from that stereotype.
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 8:54AM) : He rejected the position white people put him in more

James recognized that the world around him was constructed for him to fail, instead of just giving his life to crime he refused his position.

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Oct 25
SANIYA L (Oct 25 2020 6:10PM) : I agree with this. He refused to walk down the path whites had set for him.
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Oct 25
SANIYA L (Oct 25 2020 6:04PM) : He refused to let white people lay out his "future". He refused to let them tell him who he was.
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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 9:48AM) : White people tried to control the black people
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 9:07AM) : He realized that he was disposable more

In the white mans world he is limited and expected to fit in a box, if he went against this he would simply be ‘polished off’ with little effort

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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 9:34AM) : This is showing that the white people want to limit the Black man capabilities but they definitely didn't limit James Baldwin capabilities
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 7:05AM) : What does he mean when he says he could have been polished off with no effort whatever?
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For when I tried to assess my capabilities, I realized that I had almost none. In order to achieve the life I wanted, I had been dealt, it seemed to me, the worst possible hand. I could not become a prizefighter—many of us tried but very few succeeded. I could not sing. I could not dance. I had been well conditioned by the world in which I grew up, so I did not yet dare take the idea of becoming a writer seriously. The only other possibility seemed to involve my becoming one of the sordid people on the Avenue, who were not really as sordid as I then imagined but who frightened me terribly, both because I did not want to live that life and because of what they made me feel. Everything inflamed me, and that was bad enough, but I myself had also become a source of fire and temptation. I had been far too well raised, alas, to suppose that any of the extremely explicit overtures made to me that summer, sometimes by boys and girls but also, more alarmingly, by older men and women, had anything to do with my attractiveness. On the contrary, since the Harlem idea of seduction is, to put it mildly, blunt, whatever these people saw in me merely confirmed my sense of my depravity.

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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 11:58AM) : my life
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Oct 25
SANIYA L (Oct 25 2020 8:40PM) : He wanted to change his life, but he had noticed that it was going to be difficult
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 9:07AM) : I think he's saying if he wants to live a good life, but he has a very bad situation.
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Oct 16
Myah (Oct 16 2018 11:06AM) : he wasn't prepared for the real world
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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 11:35AM) : Determination more

This shows Baldwin is trying so hard to make it out the ghetto

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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 9:10AM) : He might be trying to provide him and his family a better life or live more comfortably.
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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 11:41AM) : Did they shape him?
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It is certainly sad that the awakening of one’s senses should lead to such a merciless judgment of oneself—to say nothing of the time and anguish one spends in the effort to arrive at any other—but it is also inevitable that a literal attempt to mortify the flesh should be made among black people like those with whom I grew up. Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it. Every effort made by the child’s elders to prepare him for a fate from which they cannot protect him causes him secretly, in terror, to begin to await, without knowing that he is doing so, his mysterious and inexorable punishment. He must be “good” not only in order to please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child’s consciousness through his parents’ tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished, or loved; in the sudden, uncontrollable note of fear heard in his mother’s or his father’s voice when he has strayed beyond some particular boundary. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still. The fear that I heard in my father’s voice, for example, when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house. It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world’s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction. A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other. He reacts to the fear in his parents’ voices because his parents hold up the world for him and he has no protection without them. I defended myself, as I imagined, against the fear my father made me feel by remembering that he was very old-fashioned. Also, I prided myself on the fact that I already knew how to outwit him. To defend oneself against a fear is simply to insure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced. As for one’s wits, it is just not true that one can live by them—not, that is, if one wishes really to live. That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and controlled my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me, and drove me into the church.

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Oct 15
MEHRAB C (Oct 15 2018 9:41AM) : the N word being connected to the US and US history. more

he is talking about how the N word is very prominent in the US. as its culture and history revolve suffrage.

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Oct 25
SANIYA L (Oct 25 2020 6:50PM) : From the beginning of a black persons life, ,they are taught that they mean nothing in this world
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 7:31AM) : He might be talking about himself and how he was taught to believe that.
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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 7:30AM) : What does he mean when he says they are taught to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world?
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Oct 15
NYA P (Oct 15 2018 9:40AM) : Before children even get to understand the system, they are already affected by it in a negative way. They had to grow up in an environment thats not fitted for children
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Oct 15
Syeda R (Oct 15 2018 9:50AM) : I agree.
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Oct 16
Makayla (Oct 16 2018 8:59AM) : Back people groom their children for the true world to the best of their ability more

The parents of black children know the world was not made for them so they prepare there kids to face this world and hope they survive

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Oct 21
OCEAN D (Oct 21 2020 10:27AM) : This means that the efforts by parents to teach their kids about the world they will be living in as a Black person. And it's scary for an elder to let a kid go especially in a world and time where people are despised cause of their color
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Oct 15
Carl S (Oct 15 2018 9:54AM) : He sees that his parents are scared and this gets him worried because his parents are the ones who help him stay up and help him through tough times.
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Oct 15
NYA P (Oct 15 2018 9:54AM) : Church took him away from all of the possibilities that could've negatively impacted his life

As I look back, everything I did seems curiously deliberate, though it certainly did not seem deliberate then. For example, I did not join the church of which my father was a member and in which he preached. My best friend in school, who attended a different church, had already “surrendered his life to the Lord,” and he was very anxious about my soul’s salvation. (I wasn’t, but any human attention was better than none.) One Saturday afternoon, he took me to his church. There were no services that day, and the church was empty, except for some women cleaning and some other women praying. My friend took me into the back room to meet his pastor—a woman. There she sat, in her robes, smiling, an extremely proud and handsome woman, with Africa, Europe, and the America of the American Indian blended in her face. She was perhaps forty-five or fifty at this time, and in our world she was a very celebrated woman. My friend was about to introduce me when she looked at me and smiled and said, “Whose little boy are you? “ Now this, unbelievably, was precisely the phrase used by pimps and racketeers on the Avenue when they suggested, both humorously and intensely, that I “hang out” with them. Perhaps part of the terror they had caused me to feel came from the fact that I unquestionably wanted to be somebody’s little boy. I was so frightened, and at the mercy of so many conundrums, that inevitably, that summer, someone would have taken me over; one doesn’t, in Harlem, long remain standing on any auction block. It was my good luck—perhaps—that I found myself in the church racket instead of some other, and surrendered to a spiritual seduction long before I came to any carnal knowledge. For when the pastor asked me, with that marvellous smile, “Whose little boy are you?” my heart replied at once, “Why, yours.”

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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:04PM) : He wasnt worried about "his souls salvation"he just wanted any type of attention
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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 9:20AM) : Little boy more

When she says who’s “little boy” are you it’s a negative concept because I think little boys refer to the henchmen of the pimps and racketeers back then, but when Baldwin says i’m yours That means i’m a little boy of a pastor or god meaning i’m a worker or henchmen of a pastor, or god

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Oct 26
Ian D (Oct 26 2020 10:20AM) : Why did he say he was her little boy?

The summer wore on, and things got worse. I became more guilty and more frightened, and kept all this bottled up inside me, and naturally, inescapably, one night, when this woman had finished preaching, everything came roaring, screaming, crying out, and I fell to the ground before the altar. It was the strangest sensation I have ever had in my life—up to that time, or since. I had not known that it was going to happen, or that it could happen. One moment I was on my feet, singing and clapping and, at the same time, working out in my head the plot of a play I was working on then; the next moment, with no transition, no sensation of falling, I was on my back, with the lights beating down into my face and all the vertical saints above me. I did not know what I was doing down so low, or how I had got there. And the anguish that filled me cannot be described. It moved in me like one of those floods that devastate counties, tearing everything down, tearing children from their parents and lovers from each other, and making everything an unrecognizable waste. All I really remember is the pain, the unspeakable pain; it was as though I were yelling up to Heaven and Heaven would not hear me. And if Heaven would not hear me, if love could not descend from Heaven—to wash me, to make me clean—then utter disaster was my portion. Yes, it does indeed mean something—something unspeakable—to be born, in a white country, an Anglo-Teutonic, antisexual country, black. You very soon, without knowing it, give up all hope of communion. Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away. And the universe is simply a sounding drum; there is no way, no way whatever, so it seemed then and has sometimes seemed since, to get through a life, to love your wife and children, or your friends, or your mother and father, or to be loved. The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass, and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs—as who has not?—of human love, God’s love alone is left. But God—and I felt this even then, so long ago, on that tremendous floor, unwillingly—is white. And if His love was so great, and if He loved all His children, why were we, the blacks, cast down so far? Why? In spite of all I said thereafter, I found no answer on the floor—not thatanswer, anyway—and I was on the floor all night. Over me, to bring me “through,” the saints sang and rejoiced and prayed. And in the morning, when they raised me, they told me that I was “save.”

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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:07PM) : I notice that hes describing life in a negative way
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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 9:34AM) : Baldwin is saying if we were all gods children why do blacks have to cast so far away meaning why do black have to go through all these awful things if we were gods children
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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:09PM) : I agree with this, he feels like blacks are basically outcasts, and that if god is saying that all children are his, why have blacks go through worse things than whites
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Well, indeed I was, in a way, for I was utterly drained and exhausted, and released, for the first time, from all my guilty torment. I was aware then only of my relief. For many years, I could not ask myself why human relief had to be achieved in a fashion at once so pagan and so desperate—in a fashion at once so unspeakably old and so unutterably new. And by the time I was able to ask myself this question, I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white. The principles were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 9:53AM) : I think this means for white churches The principles was Faith, hope,and charity but for most black churches it's blindness, loneliness,and terror
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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:11PM) : He feels like christians have a negative life/ the principles represent something negative [Edited]

I was saved. But at the same time, out of a deep, adolescent cunning I do not pretend to understand, I realized immediately that I could not remain in the church merely as another worshipper. I would have to give myself something to do, in order not to be too bored and find myself among all the wretched unsaved of the Avenue. And I don’t doubt that I also intended to best my father on his own ground. Anyway, very shortly after I joined the church, I became a preacher—a Young Minister—and I remained in the pulpit for more than three years. My youth quickly made me a much bigger drawing card than my father. I pushed this advantage ruthlessly, for it was the most effective means I had found of breaking his hold over me. That was the most frightening time of my life, and quite the most dishonest, and the resulting hysteria lent great passion to my sermons—for a while. I relished the attention and the relative immunity from punishment that my new status gave me, and I relished, above all, the sudden right to privacy. It had to be recognized, after all, that I was still a schoolboy, with my schoolwork to do, and I was also expected to prepare at least one sermon a week. During what we may call my heyday, I preached much more often than that. This meant that there were hours and even whole days when I could not be interrupted—not even by my father. I had immobilized him. It took rather more time for me to realize that I had also immobilized myself, and had escaped from nothing whatever.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 10:49AM) : he became an preacher and I think he chose this job because he wanted to excel at something and he was bored
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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:14PM) : He felt like if he was to be tempted while bored of life, he would become like the people from the Avenue
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The church was very exciting. It took a long time for me to disengage myself from this excitement, and on the blindest, most visceral level, I never really have, and never will. There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord. There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multicolored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord. I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes, without warning, fill a church, causing the church, as Leadbelly and so many others have testified, to rock. Nothing that has happened to me since equals the power and the glory that I sometimes felt when, in the middle of a sermon, I knew that I was somehow, by some miracle, really carrying, as they said, “the Word”—when the church and I were one. Their pain and their joy were mine, and mine were theirs—they surrendered their pain and joy to me, I surrendered mine to them-and their cries of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” and “Yes, Lord’ ” and “Praise His name!” and “Preach it, brother!” sustained and whipped on my solos until we all became equal, wringing wet, singing and dancing, in anguish and rejoicing, at the foot of the altar. It was, for a long time, in spite of—or, not inconceivably because of—the shabbiness of my motives, my only sustenance, my meat and drink. I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart. Perhaps He did, but I didn’t, and the bargain we struck, actually, down there at the foot of the cross, was that He would never let me find out.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 10:57AM) : There something that Baldwin feels that he can't describe, when he said Jesus, my dearest friend,who would never fail me knew all the secrets of my heart perhaps he did, but I didn't. This show that Baldwin is felling something that he can't describe.
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Oct 27
SANIYA L (Oct 27 2020 8:16PM) : He became closer to the people and felt their pain while they felt his by being in church
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He failed his bargain. He was a much better Man than I took Him for. It happened, as things do, imperceptibly, in many ways at once. I date it—the slow crumbling of my faith, the pulverization of my fortress—from the time, about a year after I had begun to preach, when I began to read again. I justified this desire by the fact that I was still in school, and I began, fatally, with Dostoevski. By this time, I was in a high school that was predominantly Jewish. This meant that I was surrounded by people who were, by definition, beyond any hope of salvation, who laughed at the tracts and leaflets I brought to school, and who pointed out that the Gospels had been written long after the death of Christ. This might not have been so distressing if it had not forced me to read the tracts and leaflets myself, for they were indeed, unless one believed their message already, impossible to believe. I remember feeling dimly that there was a kind of blackmail in it. People, I felt, ought to love the Lord because they loved Him, and not because they were afraid of going to Hell. I was forced, reluctantly, to realize that the Bible itself had been written by men, and translated by men out of languages I could not read, and I was already, without quite admitting it to myself, terribly involved with the effort of putting words on paper. Of course, I had the rebuttal ready: These men had all been operating under divine inspiration. Had they? All of them? And I also knew by now, alas, far more about divine inspiration than I dared admit, for I knew how I worked myself up into my own visions, and how frequently—indeed, incessantly—the visions God granted to me differed from the visions He granted to my father. I did not understand the dreams I had at night, but I knew that they were not holy. For that matter, I knew that my waking hours were far from holy. I spent most of my time in a state of repentance for things I had vividly desired to do but had not done. The fact that I was dealing with Jews brought the whole question of color, which I had been desperately avoiding, into the terrified center of my mind. I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave. This had nothing to do with anything I was, or contained, or could become; my fate had been sealed forever, from the beginning of time. And it seemed, indeed, when one looked out over Christendom, that this was what Christendom effectively believed. It was certainly the way it behaved. I remembered the Italian priests and bishops blessing Italian boys who were on their way to Ethiopia.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 11:44AM) : Paragraph 16 relates to paragraph 19 because maybe the blindness and terror was the bible saying black people were the descendants of Ham and predestined to be slaves.
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Again, the Jewish boys in high school were troubling because I could find no point of connection between them and the Jewish pawnbrokers and landlords and grocery-store owners in Harlem. I knew that these people were Jews—God knows I was told it often enough—but I thought of them only as white. Jews, as such, until I got to high school, were all incarcerated in the Old Testament, and their names were Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Job, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was bewildering to find them so many miles and centuries out of Egypt, and so far from the fiery furnace. My best friend in high school was a Jew. He came to our house once, and afterward my father asked, as he asked about everyone, “Is he a Christian?”—by which he meant “Is he saved?” I really do not know whether my answer came out of innocence or venom, but I said, coldly, “No. He’s Jewish.” My father slammed me across the face with his great palm, and in that moment everything flooded back—all the hatred and all the fear, and the depth of a merciless resolve to kill my father rather than allow my father to kill me—and I knew that all those sermons and tears and all that repentance and rejoicing had changed nothing. I wondered if I was expected to be glad that a friend of mine, or anyone, was to be tormented forever in Hell, and I also thought, suddenly, of the Jews in another Christian nation, Germany. They were not so far from the fiery furnace after all, and my best friend might have been one of them. I told my father, “He’s a better Christian than you are,” and walked out of the house. The battle between us was in the open, but that was all right; it was almost a relief. A more deadly struggle had begun.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 1:39PM) : Why is the father so mad that Baldwin friend is Jewish, Is it because they have a different religion?
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Being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked. I knew the other ministers and knew the quality of their lives. And I don’t mean to suggest by this the “Elmer Gantry” sort of hypocrisy concerning sensuality; it was a deeper, deadlier, and more subtle hypocrisy than that, and a little honest sensuality, or a lot, would have been like water in an extremely bitter desert. I knew how to work on a congregation until the last dime was surrendered—it was not very hard to do—and I knew where the money for “the Lord’s work” went. I knew, though I did not wish to know it, that I had no respect for the people with whom I worked. I could not have said it then, but I also knew that if I continued I would soon have no respect for myself. And the fact that I was “the young Brother Baldwin” increased my value with those same pimps and racketeers who had helped to stampede me into the church in the first place. They still saw the little boy they intended to take over. They were waiting for me to come to my senses and realize that I was in a very lucrative business. They knew that I did not yet realize this, and also that I had not yet begun to suspect where my own needs, coming up (they were very patient), could drive me. They themselves did know the score, and they knew that the odds were in their favor. And, really, I knew it, too. I was even lonelier and more vulnerable than I had been before. And the blood of the Lamb had not cleansed me in any way whatever. I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born. Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike. When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto? Perhaps I might have been able to reconcile myself even to this if I had been able to believe that there was any loving-kindness to be found in the haven I represented. But I had been in the pulpit too long and I had seen too many monstrous things. I don’t refer merely to the glaring fact that the minister eventually acquires houses and Cadillacs while the faithful continue to scrub floors and drop their dimes and quarters and dollars into the plate. I really mean that there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair. The transfiguring power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door. When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that meant every body. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all. I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstances, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women. Well, that was true enough, in the main—I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love toward others, no matter how they behaved toward me? What others did was their responsibility, for which they would answer when the judgment trumpet sounded. But what I did was my responsibility, and I would have to answer, too—unless, of course, there was also in Heaven a special dispensation for the benighted black, who was not to be judged in the same way as other human beings, or angels. It probably occurred to me around this time that the vision people hold of the world to come is but a reflection, with predictable wishful distortions, of the world in which they live. And this did not apply only to Negroes, who were no more “simple” or “spontaneous” or “Christian” than anybody else—who were merely more oppressed. In the same way that we, for white people, were the descendants of Ham, and were cursed forever, white people were, for us, the descendants of Cain. And the passion with which we loved the Lord was a measure of how deeply we feared and distrusted and, in the end, hated almost all strangers, always, and avoided and despised ourselves.

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Oct 15
MALAKAI L (Oct 15 2018 9:26AM) : being at a lectern desk reminded his of a theatre, he loved illusions and knew how they worked.
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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 12:55PM) : i agree
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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 12:13PM) : Christian more

In the last sentences it says That no one is more christian than anyone else. But still white people try to put down white people saying that were descendants of Ham, So were more christian. But Black people say white people are descendants of Cain, but People are the same amount of christian doesn’t matter the of what skin color you are.

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But I cannot leave it at that; there is more to it than that. In spite of everything, there was in the life I fled a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare. Perhaps we were, all of us—pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and children—bound together by the nature of our oppression, the specific and peculiar complex of risks we had to run; if so, within these limits we sometimes achieved with each other a freedom that was close to love. I remember, anyway, church suppers and outings, and, later, after I left the church, rent and waistline parties where rage and sorrow sat in the darkness and did not stir, and we ate and drank and talked and laughed and danced and forgot all about “the man.” We had the liquor, the chicken, the music, and each other, and had no need to pretend to be what we were not. This is the freedom that one hears in some gospel songs, for example, and in jazz. In all jazz, and especially in the blues, there is something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged. White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad, and that, God help us, is exactly the way most white Americans sing them—sounding, in both cases, so helplessly, defenselessly fatuous that one dare not speculate on the temperature of the deep freeze from which issue their brave and sexless little voices. Only people who have been “down the line,” as the song puts it, know what this music is about. I think it was Big Bill Broonzy who used to sing “I Feel So Good,” a really joyful song about a man who is on his way to the railroad station to meet his girl. She’s coming home. It is the singer’s incredibly moving exuberance that makes one realize how leaden the time must have been while she was gone. There is no guarantee that she will stay this time, either, as the singer clearly knows, and, in fact, she has not yet actually arrived. Tonight, or tomorrow, or within the next five minutes, he may very well be singing “Lonesome in My Bedroom,” or insisting, “Ain’t we, ain’t we, going to make it all right? Well, if we don’t today, we will tomorrow night.” White Americans do not understand the depths out of which such an ironic tenacity comes, but they suspect that the force is sensual, and they are terrified of sensuality and do not any longer understand it. The word “sensual” is not intended to bring to mind quivering dusky maidens or priapic black studs. I am referring to something much simpler and much less fanciful. To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 2:44PM) : I'm not sure but I think the last sentence is basically stating that were equal

White Christians have also forgotten several elementary historical details. They have forgotten that the religion that is now identified with their virtue and their power—“God is on our side,” says Dr. Verwoerd—came out of a rocky piece of ground in what is now known as the Middle East before color was invented, and that in order for the Christian church to be established, Christ had to be put to death, by Rome, and that the real architect of the Christian church was not the disreputable, sun-baked Hebrew who gave it his name but the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous St. Paul. The energy that was buried with the rise of the Christian nations must come back into the world; nothing can prevent it. Many of us, I think, both long to see this happen and are terrified of it, for though this transformation contains the hope of liberation, it also imposes a necessity for great change. But in order to deal with the untapped and dormant force of the previously subjugated, in order to survive as a human, moving, moral weight in the world, America and all the Western nations will be forced to reëxamine themselves and release themselves from many things that are now taken to be sacred, and to discard nearly all the assumptions that have been used to justify their lives and their anguish and their crimes so long.

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Oct 22
OCEAN D (Oct 22 2020 11:54AM) : Baldwin is saying in order to survive as a human we need to let things go

“The white man’s Heaven,” sings a Black Muslim minister, “is the black man’s Hell.” One may object—possibly—that this puts the matter somewhat too simply, but the song is true, and it has been true for as long as white men have ruled the world. The Africans put it another way: When the white man came to Africa, the white man had the Bible and the African had the land, but now it is the white man who is being, reluctantly and bloodily, separated from the land, and the African who is still attempting to digest or to vomit up the Bible. The struggle, therefore, that now begins in the world is extremely complex, involving the historical role of Christianity in the realm of power—that is, politics—and in the realm of morals. In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels. This particular true faith, moreover, is more deeply concerned about the soul than it is about the body, to which fact the flesh (and the corpses) of countless infidels bears witness. It goes without saying, then, that whoever questions the authority of the true faith also contests the right of the nations that hold this faith to rule over him—contests, in short, their title to his land. The spreading of the Gospel, regardless of the motives or the integrity or the heroism of some of the missionaries, was an absolutely indispensable justification for the planting of the flag. Priests and nuns and schoolteachers helped to protect and sanctify the power that was so ruthlessly being used by people who were indeed seeking a city, but not one in the heavens, and one to be made, very definitely, by captive hands. The Christian church itself—again, as distinguished from some of its ministers—sanctified and rejoiced in the conquests of the flag, and encouraged, if it did not formulate, the belief that conquest, with the resulting relative well-being of the Western populations, was proof of the favor of God. God had come a long way from the desert—but then so had Allah, though in a very different direction. God, going north, and rising on the wings of power, had become white, and Allah, out of power, and on the dark side of Heaven, had become—for all practical purposes, anyway—black. Thus, in the realm of morals the role of Christianity has been, at best, ambivalent. Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures—and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom—had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. 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.

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I had heard a great deal, long before I finally met him, of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and of the Nation of Islam movement, of which he is the leader. I paid very little attention to what I heard, because the burden of his message did not strike me as being very original; I had been hearing variations of it all my life. I sometimes found myself in Harlem on Saturday nights, and I stood in the crowds, at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, and listened to the Muslim speakers. But I had heard hundreds of such speeches—or so it seemed to me at first. Anyway, I have long had a very definite tendency to tune out the moment I come anywhere near either a pulpit or a soapbox. What these men were saying about white people I had often heard before. And I dismissed the Nation of Islam’s demand for a separate black economy in America, which I had also heard before, as willful, and even mischievous, nonsense. Then two things caused me to begin to listen to the speeches, and one was the behavior of the police. After all, I had seen men dragged from their platforms on this very corner for saying less virulent things, and I had seen many crowds dispersed by policemen, with clubs or on horseback. But the policemen were doing nothing now. Obviously, this was not because they had become more human but because they were under orders and because they were afraid. And indeed they were, and I was delighted to see it. There they stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun. I might have pitied them if I had not found myself in their hands so often and discovered, through ugly experience, what they were like when they held the power and what they were like when you held the power. The behavior of the crowd, its silent intensity, was the other thing that forced me to reassess the speakers and their message. I sometimes think, with despair, that Americans will swallow whole any political speech whatever—we’ve been doing very little else, these last, bad years—so it may not mean anything to say that this sense of integrity, after what Harlem, especially, has been through in the way of demagogues, was a very startling change. Still, the speakers had an air of utter dedication, and the people looked toward them with a kind of intelligence of hope on their faces—not as though they were being consoled or drugged but as though they were being jolted.

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Power was the subject of the speeches I heard. We were offered, as Nation of Islam doctrine, historical and divine proof that all white people are cursed, and are devils, and are about to be brought down. This has been revealed by Allah Himself to His prophet, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The white man’s rule will be ended forever in ten or fifteen years (and it must be conceded that all present signs would seem to bear witness to the accuracy of the prophet’s statement). The crowd seemed to swallow this theology with no effort—all crowds do swallow theology this way, I gather, in both sides of Jerusalem, in Istanbul, and in Rome—and, as theology goes, it was no more indigestible than the more familiar brand asserting that there is a curse on the sons of Ham. No more, and no less, and it had been designed for the same purpose; namely, the sanctification of power. But very little time was spent on theology, for one did not need to prove to a Harlem audience that all white men were devils. They were merely glad to have, at last, divine corroboration of their experience, to hear—and it was a tremendous thing to hear—that they had been lied to for all these years and generations, and that their captivity was ending, for God was black. Why were they hearing it now, since this was not the first time it had been said? I had heard it many times, from various prophets, during all the years that I was growing up. Elijah Muhammad himself has now been carrying the same message for more than thirty years; he is not an overnight sensation, and we owe his ministry, I am told, to the fact that when he was a child of six or so, his father was lynched before his eyes. (So much for states’ rights.) And now, suddenly, people who have never before been able to hear this message hear it, and believe it, and are changed. Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do: to heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who have come out of prison and to keep them out, to make men chaste and women virtuous, and to invest both the male and the female with a pride and a serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light. He has done all these things, which our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do. How has Elijah managed it?

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Well, in a way—and I have no wish to minimize his peculiar role and his peculiar achievement—it is not he who has done it but time. Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue. In those days, not so very long ago, when the priests of that church which stands in Rome gave God’s blessing to Italian boys being sent out to ravage a defenseless black country—which until that event, incidentally, had not considered itself to be black—it was not possible to believe in a black God. To entertain such a belief would have been to entertain madness. But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. The Tunisians were quite right in 1956—and it was a very significant moment in Western (and African) history—when they countered the French justification for remaining in North Africa with the question “Are the

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French ready for self-government?” Again, the terms “civilized” and “Christian” begin to have a very strange ring, particularly in the ears of those who have been judged to be neither civilized nor Christian, when a Christian nation surrenders to a foul and violent orgy, as Germany did during the Third Reich. For the crime of their ancestry, millions of people in the middle of the twentieth century, and in the heart of Europe—God’s citadel—were sent to a death so calculated, so hideous, and so prolonged that no age before this enlightened one had been able to imagine it, much less achieve and record it. Furthermore, those beneath the western heel, unlike those within the West, are aware that Germany’s current role in Europe is to act as a bulwark against the “uncivilized” hordes, and since power is what the powerless want, they understand very well what we of the West want to keep, and are not deluded by our talk of a freedom that we have never been willing to share with them. From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded—at least, in the same way. For my part, the fate of the Jews, and the world’s indifference to it, frightened me very much. I could not but feel, in those sorrowful years, that this human indifference, concerning which I knew so much already, would be my portion on the day that the United States decided to murder its Negroes systematically instead of little by little and catch-as-catch-can. I was, of course, authoritatively assured that what had happened to the Jews in Germany could not happen to the Negroes in America, but I thought, bleakly, that the German Jews had probably believed similar counsellors, and, again, I could not share the white man’s vision of himself for the very good reason that white men in America do not behave toward black men the way they behave toward each other. When a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed. I know. I have been carried into precinct basements often enough, and I have seen and heard and endured the secrets of desperate white men and women, which they knew were safe with me, because even if I should speak, no one would believe me. And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true.