Thursday, August 2nd, marks the 88th birthday of the late, great American (and LGBT hero) author James "Jimmy" Baldwin (b. 1924-1987). His brilliance, his foresight, his compassion, and his spirit pervade my life more strongly now than ever. I will post images, video, and short excerpts from some of Baldwin's oeuvre during this week, in hopes that those of you who may be unfamiliar with this genius will be encouraged to get to know him. I am loath to write about Baldwin (or perhaps just intimidated by the idea) since his work so eloquently speaks for itself, so I hope that the choices I make in posting this celebration offer a fitting tribute.
He is smart and beautiful/
He says, "You are, too."
James Baldwin (1924-1987), by Van Vechten, 1955
Today, I would like to highlight a clip from Take This Hammer, a 1963 documentary produced by KQED in Los Angeles for National Education Television.* In this scene, Baldwin discourses on the origin, use, and meaning of the word "nigger" in its uniquely American and oppositional context. His searing eloquence combined with an amazing ability to throw serious yet subtle shade as he schools the unseen narrator (while working that fabulous bandanna) is awesome.
"No matter what you've done to me, I can say to you this, and I mean it...I know you can't do anything more, and I've got nothing to lose, I know, and I've always known...and really always...that's part of the agony...I've always known that I'm not a nigger."
I hope this invites you to look at more of this history, as we are coming up on the quinquagenary of many civil rights era advances, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, organized by another black gay man (Bayard Rustin).
*The entire documentary is available for viewing in sections on YouTube.