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Quotes of James Baldwin

March 30, 2022

Inspirational quotes from Baldwin’s books, essays, and interviews over the years, are priceless observations that still ring true today.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.
— 1963 profile in "LIFE" magazine


Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
— "The Fire Next Time"


You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.
— 1961 interview with Studs Terkel


To accept one’s past — one’s history — is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.
— "The Fire Next Time"


If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony.
— "No Name in the Street"


You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.
— Interview with the "Village Voice"


Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
— "Notes of a Native Son"


Once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.
— 1984 interview with "The Paris Review"


The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.
— "The Devil Finds Work"


The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it — at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.
— “A Talk to Teachers” essay in "Saturday Review"


Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.
— “A Talk to Teachers” essay in "Saturday Review"


Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
— "The New York Times" Book Review, 1962


I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
— "Notes of a Native Son"


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