THE FIRE NEXT TIME by JAMES BALWIN
“Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.”
–The Fire Next Time (1963)
There are books, then there are James Baldwin novels. It is not often that a piece of literature moves you enough to take a moment after you turn the final page. The blank page at the end of the book seems to turn into something of a canvas of your impressions of what just happened during the course of your reading. It is rare that an author holds your attention like that, yet it is not surprising his words hold that power within themselves. The work of James Baldwin stand out in its own right because of the reputation of the man and the value he holds in the American and particularly African American cultural fabric. In times like these where the world is tumultuous, rowdy and wild; it is difficult to find purpose, meaning and truth in what we see around us.
The conversations that Baldwin has in this book is one of conviction and resolve. Originally written as a letter to his nephew, the book is essentially a window into the inner workings of a man troubled at what he is experiencing in America at the peak of the racial troubles. It is important that people read the book in the context of the society of the time, yet the universality of his arguments and observations ring through even today. Though identity politics might not be a mode of reaching consensus, let this not make you biased into not picking up this book. The idea of this book is not to antagonise, but empathise. To step into the shoes of the African American people and see the world through their eyes, a perspective that is often lost within the modern society even.
The observations are lingering, coming from a place of brutal honesty. An honest heart when expressed through words seem to stay with us long after the final page is turned. This book is not about trying to smother the thoughts of the mind, the ramblings are not innocuous. The words are succinct depictions of brutal realities that afflict the African-American community of the time that finds echo today, decades later. Through Baldwin, we see a people facing the tumultuous and confused nurturing of the disturbed streets of America in the 1940s through the 1960s. The tracing of history of an oppressed race that teaches us the fallible nature of humanity and the hypocrisy of kindness. The words are seldom censored, thoughts rarely ever curtailed. If you are looking for a reality check that is beyond the glossy pages of ethereal writing, this might just be the best buy.
You may not be alive at the time when this was written, you might not even be in America or even African-American. If there is one thing that runs throughout humanity is the ebb and flow of the oppressor and the oppressed. The true human experiences of injustice, oppression, censorship, loss of rights, lack of purpose and meaning are all universal. If you have lived, you have faced these at some point in your life. Baldwin echoes the experience into words so poignant that it rarely ever misses the sweet spot. Before you use the Black Lives Matter, CAA or NRC hashtag in your posts, before you step on to the streets and in front of a camera to proclaim your support to any or all of these movements; know what came before you. It is important to know that the burning embers of the torch for change has passed through the hands of great men and women, it is a responsibility and demands accountability. The idea of protest is bigger than a social media frenzy, it is a purposeful and resolute attempt at changing the status quo. Some times it may seem that these lines have blurred. When in doubt, The Fire Next Time might just help you find your true north. Become more than a coffee table social justice warrior, this book could rally your spirits to fight for something bigger than you. For in the musings of James Baldwin, you might just find yourself once again.
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