Lessons from James Baldwin
Review of James Baldwin: The FBI File; Against the Current vol. 192
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 Baldwins politics. The USA has a political-economic order, one that underlies the "racial, sexual and cultural" order Maxwell cites. And it is Baldwins 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 Baldwins political significance than those who dwell today on his sexuality, his delineation of Blackness or even his brilliant prose artistry.