What it Means to be Simply Human

James Baldwin

We often read about the struggle that African Americans endured during slavery. In such works, we hear about the harsh realities of slavery and the life struggle those individuals faced. Then, we have writers like W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin. These writers are particularly interesting because they explore the aftermath of slavery. Both of these writers explore the psychological and social imprint left behind by slavery.   W.E.B. Du Bois introduces and expands on   ideas like the Veil and Double-Consciousness.  He explains that the Veil is the imaginary blanket of social inequality that still hung over many African Americans, even after the Emancipation Proclamation. Du Bois talks about how the freed slaves are left with a double consciousness because they are neither Americans nor true Africans and are told what they ought to be.

These ideas are also echoed by James Baldwin. What is particularly interesting is Baldwin’s personal life. James Baldwin was an African American who wanted to write. He was discouraged by his father’s apprehension. Even so, James Baldwin pursued writing. Around the age of fourteen, James Baldwin became involved at church in order to avoid the streets of Harlem. He would preach and write sermons. This was a crucial moment in his life because it prepared him, in many ways, to become a writer. He had a profound understanding of what religion meant to the African American community, but also what it meant for the White community. However, his passion for reading and writing led him to really approach religion with an analytical eye. James Baldwin was able to lift the Veil that Du Bois talked about and shift his perspective and life style. James Baldwin began to explore the true meaning of love and identity.

In his book, The Fire Next Time, he talks about how Christianity gave the African American hope, but it many ways it harbored the doctrine of hate. James Baldwin understood that when the bible mentioned that one must love their neighbor, it was not discriminating against color. Therefore, the apprehension and anger that many African Americans had towards the White community was not in accordance with Christianity. However, this idea did not end there. James Baldwin stressed that every idea was a double sided coin. He recognized, like Du Bois, that slavery was really a binary. James Baldwin discovered that an underlying question was really about the definition of love. This was something that he really sought out, he himself being a homosexual African American male. That is to say, James Baldwin understood what it was to be the “other” and really questioned the relationship between freedom, love, and identity. He viewed love and identity as something that is universal to humans as a whole. He recognized that the aftermath of slavery, the veil and double-consciousness, was something that affected the community as a whole. James Baldwin realized that at the bottom of these different conflicts, the way in which we define love was important and essential because it defines who we are as humans.

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