“For Jimmy was God's black revolutionary mouth. If there is a God, and revolution His righteous natural expression.” - Amiri Baraka
James Baldwin is one of the most important thinkers of our time. The depth and clarity of his thought comes from his unwavering commitment to the truth, and the firm awareness that truth is situated in the life-worlds of oppressed people. As a Witness to the lives and struggles of Black Americans, he abandoned his individuality to assume the perspective of his people. In the daily experiences of Black people, he found, uncovered, and revealed the contradictions of modern American society. By studying Baldwin, we can understand our world so we can change it for the benefit of humanity.
Baldwin’s work emerges from the suffering of black poor and working people, which allowed him to uncover the workings of America’s white supremacist social system. The color line is, and has been, an over-determining force in America and the world. Only in understanding the nature of the white supremacist social system, which extends globally, can we understand the historical and continuing relationship between the struggles to create a new epoch for humanity and the struggle for Black liberation. Baldwin questioned white America’s ability to deal with reality, and recognized the experience of the Black poor as being closest to the truth of this nation. This is why any search for liberation must be unconditionally rooted in Black liberation; total liberation, both before the law and in the mind.
War and peace is the most pressing problem for humanity at this moment. The threat of nuclear war looms over the world. The last few months have seen an escalation in war rhetoric, and a war propaganda campaign led by the neoliberal and war advocates in the US. All of this is under the guise of a movement for ‘protecting American democracy’. This movement claims to be anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic, yet maintains a chilling silence on the horrific wars that the US has waged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, on the war campaign against Russia, and ignores the continued suffering of Black people. Many progressives have joined this movement, in effect aligning with the war machine. As Martin Luther King Jr. insisted,war is the enemy of the poor; we must forcefully and unshakably stand against war, in solidarity with humanity. We must build an anti-war movement that allows us to be in real solidarity with those that fight empire from the outside.
As a revolutionary thinker, Baldwin stood for the best in humanity. His writing demonstrated a deep love for all people. In continuing to define himself on his own terms, he defined himself as a Witness--a Witness to the truth, a Witness to people’s suffering and to their struggles. He was a brilliant example of an organic intellectual.
To imagine the future, we have to deeply understand the systemic character of oppression. James Baldwin understood how ideas shaped people’s consciousness and molded their imaginations of the future. The study of the life and work of James Baldwin is a foundation that informs our struggles today. Baldwin’s ideas are fused with optimism about the possibility of human and black liberation. As Baldwin said, “I can’t be a pessimist, because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. I am forced to be an optimist."
For clarity in thought and action we seek to be in conversation with the life worlds of poor and working people, like Baldwin. Universities produce intellectuals that theorize from ivory towers and with only superficial relationships to the people about whom they theorize. They have failed in their responsibilities to create knowledge for human liberation. This failure manifests itself in individualism and pessimism that a better world is possible.
In this time of political and economic crisis and of people’s aspiration for fundamental change, we take inspiration from James Baldwin’s moral integrity and ideological clarity. Honoring Baldwin is paying tribute to the inevitable and eternal human struggle for freedom. This celebration is our commitment to continue our struggle to understand and change the world. Our celebration of James Baldwin’s life is our celebration of the best in our people and our belief in the redeeming power of truth and love.