Saturday, August 11, 2012

I'm changing the focus of this blog.  Since I've greatly increased the number of books I"m reading I'll be singling out passages that resonate with me.  I'm currently reading Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin.  I haven't read Native Son by Richard Wright but from what I gather more can be gathered about the commentary provided by James Baldwin than actually reading the book.  Passages that really stuck out to me were on the topics of Negro leaders (since most people would argue that we don't really have any)
    "The terrible thing about being a Negro leader lies in the term itself.  I do not mean merely the somewhat condescending differentiation the term implies, but the nicely refine torture a man can experience from having been created and defeated by the same circumstances.  That is, Negro leaders have been created by the American scene, which thereafter works against them at every point; and the best they can hope for is ultimately to work themselves out of their jobs, to nag contemporary American leaders and members of their own group until a bad situation becomes so complicated and so bad that it cannot be endured any longer.  It is like needling a blister until it bursts.  On the other hand, one cannot help observing that some Negro leaders and politicians are far more concerned with their career than the welfare of Negros, and their dramatic and publicised battles are battles with the wind.  Again, this phenomenon cannot be changed without a change in the American scene.  In a land where, it is said, any citizen can grow up and become president, Negroes can be pardoned for the desiring to enter Congress"

The only points I would raise about this detailed conundrum is that there are very few people who would choose to exacerbate and elevate there lives in the realm of contradiction.  In many ways, Blacks are aware of the befuddled and subtle contradictions of their very existence.  Becoming a Black leader would only make this internal struggle worse (although it may ultimately help Blacks in America as a whole).  On another note, its really unfortunate that James Baldwin never lived to this day and age as the faulty conviction of having a Black president is no more.

James Baldwin on his father:
    "He was, I think, very handsome.  I gather this from photographs and from my own memories of him, dressed in his Sunday best and on his way to preach a sermon somewhere, when I was little...But he looked to me, as I grew older, like pictures I had seen of African tribal chieftains: he really should have been naked, with war-paint on and barbaric mementos, standing around spears.  He could be chilling in the pulpit and indescribably cruel in his personal life and he was certainly the most bitter man I have ever met; yet it must be said that there was something else in him, buried in him, which lent him his tremendous power and, even, a rather crushing charm.  It had something to do with his blackness, I think -- he was very black -- with his blackness and his beauty, and with the fact that he knew that he was black but did not know that he was beautiful.  He claimed to be proud of his blackness but it had also been the cause of much humiliation and it had fixed bleak boundaries to his life.  He was not a young man when were were growing up and he had already suffered many kinds of ruin; in his outrageously demanding and protective way he loved his children, who were black like him and menaced, like him; and all these things sometimes showed in his face when he tried, never to my knowledge with any success, to establish contact with any of us.  When he took one of his children on his knee to play, the child always became fretful and began to cry; when he tried to help one of us with out homework the absolutely unabating tension which emanated from him caused our minds and our tongues to become paralyzed, so that he scarcely knowing why, flew into a rage and the child, not knowing why, was punished.  If it ever entered his head to bring a surprise home for his children, it was unfailingly, the wrong surprise...  I do not remember, in all those years, that one of his children was ever glad to see him come home.  From what I was able to gather of his early life, it seemed that his inability to establish contact with other people had always marked him and had been one of the things which had driven him out...He had lived and died in an intolerable bitterness of spirit and it frightened me, as we drove him to the graveyard through those unquiet, ruined streets, to see how powerful and overflowing this bitterness could be and to realize that this bitterness now was mine.
    When he died I had been away from home for a little over a year.  In that year I had had time to become aware of the meaning of all my father's bitter warnings, had discovered the secret of his proudly pursed lips and rigid carriage:  I had discovered the weight of white people in the world.  I saw that this had been for my ancestors and now would be for me an awful thing to live with and that the bitterness which had helped to kill my father could also kill me...
    We had not known that he was being eaten up by paranoia, and the discovery that his cruelty, to our bodies and our minds, had been one of the symptoms of his illness was not, then enough to enable us to forgive him.  The younger children felt, quite simply, relief that he would not be coming home anymore.  My mother's observation that it was he, after all, who had kept them alive all these years meant nothing because the problems of keeping children alive are not real for children.  The older children felt, with my father gone, that they could invite their friends to the house without fear that their friends would be insulted or, as had sometimes happened with me, being of that their friends were in a  league with the devil and intended to rob our family of everything we owned...
    In my mind's eye I could see him, sitting at the window, locked up in his terrors; hating and fearing every living soul including his children who had betrayed him, too, by reaching towards the world which had despised him."

This passage really summarizes so much of the relationship between my father and I that I was at a loss of words because of the exactness of the passage.  Its good that my experience is not mine alone and that there are a multitude of choices one can make to achieve a preferable future.

    "For so long as the waters are troubled they cannot become stagnant."

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