Lessons from James Baldwin
Review of James Baldwin: The FBI File; Against the Current vol. 192

Woodford, John

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/01/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23269

A review of James Baldwin: The FBI File, a novel edited by William J. Maxwell which sets out an interpretive frame,through which readers may study his excerpts his file from the FBI.




Missing in Maxwell's sex/surveillance/slavery optic is James Baldwin’s politics. The USA has a political-economic order, one that underlies the "racial, sexual and cultural" order Maxwell cites. And it is Baldwin’s politics, I will argue, that made him a "first-class threat" to both the reactionary and liberal wings of the U.S. establishment.

Furthermore, it was a politics that emerged through the manifold struggles of left organizations of that day, which included, significantly for him, the movements that brought Orilla (Bill) Miller to his elementary school as a federal Works Progress Administration intern.

As a young white teacher, Miller introduced the bright 10-year-old boy to history and culture, and it was because "she arrived in my terrifying life so soon, that I never really managed to hate white people," Baldwin says in the documentary.

The FBI itself, Maxwell notes, had a deeper and more respectful view of Baldwin’s political significance than those who dwell today on his sexuality, his delineation of Blackness or even his brilliant prose artistry.

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