James Baldwin in Obama’s America

Happy Birthday to James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) . I am re-posting this review essay I wrote three years ago.


(Originally published in the GC Advocate, October 2010)

The Cross of Redemption : Uncollected Writings.  Random House, 2010.

Nearly every review I’ve seen of the Cross of Redemption so far has picked up on one particular quote from this new collection of James Baldwin’s writing.   It is the first paragraph of a piece titled “from Nationalism, Colonialism, and the United States: One Minute to Twelve – A Forum,” which is a transcript of a 1961 speech the 36 year old Baldwin gave in New York for the Liberation Committee for Africa:

Bobby Kennedy recently made me the soul-stirring promise that one day – thirty years, if I’m lucky – I can be President too.  It never entered this boy’s mind, I suppose – it has not entered the country’s mind yet – that perhaps I wouldn’t want to be.  And in any case, what really exercises…

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In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.

– from Beloved, by Toni Morrison

The GC Advocate

There have been some ongoing issues with the website of The GC Advocate, the student-run newspaper of the CUNY Graduate Center community.  The main site has been down from time to time, and recently I have noticed malicious site warnings when I tried to click on links to it.  I have written several reviews and articles for the paper over the years and I have tried to keep the original links here, but as a result of these continuing problems I have gone through my old posts here and tried to remove all of the links to the old GC Advocate site on this blog.

The GC Advocate is still publishing physical copies, and is now functioning as a blog at  http://opencuny.org/gcadvocate


Once again I want to thank all of the wonderful people who took the time to read my post about the Boy Scouts.  I have received a lot of great feedback and support, both online and in person.

For now, I have said what I needed to say about that particular issue, and I will leave it in the hands of people who are more directly involved in Scouting.  The tumblr page Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges is still accumulating letters (up to 127 now). Scouts for Equality has a petition that you can sign in order to be counted among all the people in the BSA who oppose their anti-gay policy, as well as other ways to be involved.  I will keep an eye on the issue and lend my support in any way that I can.

For now, it is time to turn my attention back to my own academic work, which is long overdue. I’m planning to post more about academic fiction and higher education throughout the fall.

I wanted to start with something that I have been interested in posting for a while.  When I was preparing for my oral exams I found it helpful to see reading lists that others had compiled for similar fields.  I did three fields:  “Black Nationalist Thought in the U.S.”;  “Comedy, Humor and Satire in Black American Literature”; “Samuel R. Delany: Race, Sexuality and the Paraliterary.”  I’ll be posting each of these lists individually.

Reviewing the lists has been a good intellectual exercise for me.  My dissertation topic came out of reading these books. The main bit of advice to other grad students that I can think of after seeing these lists again:  They don’t have to be perfect.  The point was to set a date for the exam and follow through on the reading.  The lists aren’t exhaustive.  I can see plenty of gaps in the knowledge, plenty of the things that I left off, plenty of things I should have included.  But the only way to know that was to follow through on the process.  (I’m trying to reiterate to myself this same advice for dissertation writing.)

Finally I’ve been thinking a lot about digital literacy lately.  Recently, I came across Howard Rheingold whose work has been helpful for me as I’ve thought more about how to use digital resources in my academic work.  I’m reading his book Net Smart right now, and I’ve watched some of his lectures online.  His ideas about mindfulness, multitasking and filtering information have resonated with me and synced up with other ideas about digital writing that I have accumulated over the past few years.  I’m trying to put some of these ideas into practice on this blog and in other digital outlets.

So, I’ll be posting the orals lists next, and then hopefully some more on academic fiction later in the week.


“So here’s a point that may be obvious: Fifty years ago, when I was a Scout, hard-core conservatives and segregationists opposed civil rights based on tradition and their constricted views of society. Who looks on their opposition with respect and appreciation in 2012?”

From a fellow Eagle Scout, among the now 87 who have returned medals on the Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges Tumblr page.