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If Beale Street Could Talk

    6 July 2016, early evening

I’m making my way through James Baldwin’s later novels now. I read Tell Me How Long the Trains Been Gone earlier in the year, and just finished If Beale Street Could Talk today. I have to take breaks between reading his books. They make you a little bit angry. Or they should, anyway. His career spanned 30 odd years, and though his stories aren’t all the same, they are. Whether set in 1950 or 1970 not enough changes for Baldwin—or his brethren.

My countrymen impressed me, simply, as being, on the whole, the emptiest and most unattractive people in the world. It seemed a great waste of one’s only lifetime to be condemned to their chattering, vicious, pathetic, hysterically dishonest company. There other things to do, there people to see, there was another way to live! I had seen it, after all, and I knew. But I also knew that what I had seen, I had seen from a distance, a distance determined by my history. I was part of these people, no matter how bitterly I judged them. I would never be able to leave this country. I could leave it briefly, like a growing man coming up for air. I had the choice of perishing with these doomed people, or of fleeing them, denying them, and in that effort perishing. It was a very cunning trap. And a very bitter joke. For these people not change: the very word caused their eyes to unfocused, their lips to loosen or tighten, and sent them scurrying to their various bomb-shelters.

American police murdered another Black man today. Well, at least one.

Now, Fonny knows why he is here – why he is where he is; now, he dares to look around him. He is not here for anything he has done. He has always known that, but now he knows it with a difference. At meals, in the showers, up and down the stairs, in the evening, just before everyone is locked in again, he looks at the others, he listens: what have they done? Not much. To do much is to have the power to place these people where they are, and keep them where they are. These captive men are the hidden price for a hidden lie: the righteous must be able to locate the damned. To do much is to have the power and the necessity to dictate to the damned. But that, thinks Fonny, works both ways. You’re in or you’re out. Okay. I see. Motherfuckers. You won’t hang me.

You should read more James Baldwin.

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