“Who is the N-I-G-G-E-R?” Author, James Baldwin

Three selected excerpts from two national treasures authors / activists James Baldwin (1963 / 1969) and Dr Cornel West (2016) which demonstrate a theme “Who is the n-i-g-g-e-r?” and Dr West also touches on the struggle for honesty, decency and integrity in modern America.

Below is my Faint Signals from Vega compilation of these podcast excerpts.

One excerpt from author James Baldwin (1963):

“Well, I know this,
Anyone who has ever tried to live knows this:
That what you say about somebody else, anybody else… reveals you.
What I think of you as being,
Is dictated by my own necessities,
My own psychology, my own fears and desires.
I’m not describing you when I talk about you,
I’m describing me.

Now, here in this country, we’ve got something called a n-i-g-g-e-r…

We have invented the n-i-g-g-e-r.
I didn’t invent him.
White people invented him.

I’ve always known,
I had to know by the time I was 17 years old,
What you were describing was not me,
And what you were afraid of was not me
It has to be something else,
You invented it, so it had to be something YOU were afraid of – you invested me with.

Now, if that’s so…
No matter what you’ve done to me,
I can say to you this, and I mean it

I know you can’t do anything more and I’ve got nothing to lose.
And I know,
And I’ve always known,
And really always- that’s a part of the agony –
I’ve always known that I am not a n-i-g-g-e-r.
But if I am not the n-i-g-g-e-r,
And if it’s true that your invention reveals you,
Then who is the n-i-g-g-e-r?
I’m not the victim here.

I know one thing from another…
I know I was born, I’m gonna suffer, and I’m gonna die.
The only way to get through life is know the worst things about it.

A person is more important than anything else. Anything else.

I’ve learned this because I had to learn it.
But, you still think, I gather,
That the n-i-g-g-e-r is necessary.
Well, he’s unnecessary to me,
So he must be necessary to you.
So I give you your problem back:
You’re the n-i-g-g-e-r, baby, it isn’t me.”

Author James Baldwin, 1969

Here’s the full talk by Dr. West from which the excerpts were taken. You can find numerous speeches by James Baldwin and Dr. Cornel West on Youtube.


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