Read The Evidence of Things Not Seen by James Baldwin Free Online
Book Title: The Evidence of Things Not Seen|
Edition: Buccaneer Books
Date of issue: April 1st 1998
ISBN 13: 9781568495750
The author of the book: James Baldwin
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 15.48 MB
Read full description of the books The Evidence of Things Not Seen:Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates (his recent Between the World and Me, his essay on reparations, and everything he posts to his Atlantic.com blog) sent me back to James Baldwin, an important influence on Coates. I'd never read Evidence of Things Not Seen, but there it was before me at my town library's book sale so I brought it home.
If you've never read Baldwin, this isn't a good place to start. It's brilliant in places, but it's disjointed and fragmentary in others. The book was catalyzed by the murder of almost 30 black children, teenagers, and young adults in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. When Baldwin wrote -- the book was first published in 1985 -- the case was fresh in people's minds. Some 30 years later it isn't. Baldwin's comments on the trial of Wayne Williams and on Williams himself are enough to create doubt that Williams killed anyone, and certainly not any of the children for whose murders he was never tried, but they don't provide a coherent narrative of Williams's arrest and trial. The 1995 edition of the book, which I don't have, includes a foreword by Derrick Bell with Janet Bell. That might be a better place to start, or by brushing up on the facts of the case.
Even if one's memory of the Atlanta case is sketchy at best, the message comes through loud and clear to the reader in 2015: Black Lives Didn't Matter in 1979 any more than they do today, and the contortions that white justice, the white media, and white popular opinion will go through to avoid thinking too hard about this have not changed all that much.
Why didn't, and don't, black lives matter to white America? Here is where Baldwin shines, and where Ta-Nehisi Coates's debt to him is clear. Because racism is not an aberration or an unpleasant side effect of the American experiment and the American Dream: it's part of their foundation. "The real meaning and history of Manifest Destiny, for example," Baldwin writes, "is nothing less than calculated and deliberate genocide." Not news to many of us, but look at the shrieking that greets any attempt to include even a watered-down version of that conclusion in high school history books.
Whiteness, Baldwin writes, was created by Europeans to justify what they did to peoples who were not, in their view, white enough to matter. And whiteness isn't primarily a matter of color: it's a matter of how those in power choose to see you. The Irish did not matter to the English, though their skin showed the same range of colors. The Jews, Roma, and others didn't matter to the Germans. In World War II, Baldwin writes, "the West went to war against the monster the West had created, in self-defense and for no other reason" (italics in original).
Baldwin is profoundly concerned with morality, with the corrosive effects of this history both on those who consider themselves white and on those whose survival depends on emulating whiteness. His indictment of the Christianity practiced by the European enslavers and colonizers is scathing, but equally powerful is his recognition of how black people managed to transform that toxic legacy: "The Black preacher . . . was our first warrior, terrorist, or guerrilla. He told us that trouble don't last always. He told us that our children and our elders were sacred, when the Civilized were spitting on them and hacking them to pieces, in the name of God, and in order to keep making money" (italics in original).
Baldwin's style can be challenging. Yes, there are probably too many commas, but the commas slow the reader down. There's no speeding through this book, which is OK because it's only 125 pages long. It's not the best introduction to Baldwin's work, but in 2015 it's still very much worth reading.
Read information about the authorLibrarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first novel, is a partially autobiographical account of his youth. His essay collections Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a large white audience.
From 1948, Baldwin made his home primarily in the south of France, but often returned to the USA to lecture or teach. In 1957, he began spending half of each year in New York City. His novels include Giovanni's Room, about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country, about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community. Eldridge Cleaver, of the Black Panthers, stated the Baldwin's writing displayed an "agonizing, total hatred of blacks." Baldwin's play, Blues for Mister Charlie, was produced in 1964. Going to Meet the Man and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.
On November 30, 1987 Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.
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