Inspiration and wisdom from divine felines

154 Inspiring Quotes by James Baldwin

Welcome to our collection of quotes by James Baldwin.

Wikipedia Summary for James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the Western society of the United States during the mid twentieth-century. Some of Baldwin's essays are book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award–nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016). One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.

Baldwin's novels, short stories, and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth-century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin's protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, and gay and bisexual men frequently feature as protagonists in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social- and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, which was written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.

pink and white roses on white surface

A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.

--James Baldwin

None

His touch could never fail to make me feel desire; yet his hot, sweet breath also made me want to vomit.

--James Baldwin

litter of dogs fall in line beside wall

If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, fire next time.

--James Baldwin


photo of white and brown bricked wall during daytime

So what can we really do for each other except -- just love each other and be each other's witness? And haven't we got the right to hope -- for more? So that we can really stretch into whoever we really are?

--James Baldwin

black Sony point-and-shoot camera on yellow surface

People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state on innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

--James Baldwin

yellow and red color textile

There is nothing more boring, anyway, than sexual activity as an end in itself, and a great many people who came out of the closet should reconsider.

--James Baldwin

white flowers

The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains.

--James Baldwin

tree under blue sky

I moved, looking for a cigarette. They were in my hand. I lit one. In a moment, I thought, I will say something. I will say something and then I will walk out of this room forever.

--James Baldwin


pink and red flowers

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.

--James Baldwin

white and yellow flower in close up photography

Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society.

--James Baldwin


person in black hoodie using laptop computer

Whereas Jesus and his disciples were distrusted by the state largely because they respected the poor and shared everything, the fundamentalists of the present hour would appear not to know that the poor exist.

--James Baldwin



yellow and red color textile

The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.

--James Baldwin


blue flowers in tilt shift lens

It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian.

--James Baldwin

light green

Beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudeness, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected.

--James Baldwin

time lapse photography of lightning during storm

Allegiance, after all, has to work two ways; and one can grow weary of an allegiance which is not reciprocal.

--James Baldwin

silhouette of stones during golden hour

But I felt that it was my heart which was broken. Something had broken in me to make me so cold and so perfectly still and far away.

--James Baldwin

blue and white striped textile

We have all had the experience of finding that our reactions and perhaps even our deeds have denied beliefs we thought were ours.

--James Baldwin


red moon wallpaper

He was waiting, I think, for me to cross that space and take him in my arms again--waiting, as one waits at a deathbed for the miracle one dare not disbelieve, which will not happen.

--James Baldwin

bird in the sky

But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.

--James Baldwin

woman looking up to the sky while standing on white sand

For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.

--James Baldwin





green grass field

It is one thing to overthrow a dictator or to repel and invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution.

--James Baldwin

people near body of water

I sometimes think, with despair, that Americans will swallow whole any political speech whatever--we've been doing very little else, these last, bad years.

--James Baldwin

black Corona typewriter on brown wood planks

This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

--James Baldwin


jumping on snow covered mountain during daytime

We go down the hall again, thank heaven, to my drink.

--James Baldwin

group of people waving their hands

If I am not what you say I am, then you are not who you think you are.

--James Baldwin



focus photo of a hummingbird on leaf

The real troubles with living is that living is so banal.

--James Baldwin

red tulip in bloom during daytime

People are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted.

--James Baldwin

person walking on snowfield

Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.

--James Baldwin




snow covered mountain during daytime

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.

--James Baldwin


shallow focus photography of orange flower

No curtain under heaven is heavier than that curtain of guilt and lies behind which white Americans hide.

--James Baldwin

fire near trees

Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden.

--James Baldwin


selective photography of green leaf plant

Because I was raised in a Christian culture I never considered myself to be a totally free human being.

--James Baldwin


sunset

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

--James Baldwin

Arizona landscape

You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.

--James Baldwin

red tulip flowers under calm blue sky

It's not really a mystery except it's always a mystery about people.

--James Baldwin

red and white petaled flower close-up photography

For here you were, Big James, named for me--you were a big baby, I was not--here you were, to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world.

--James Baldwin

closeup photo of sunflower

The power to define the other seals one's definition of oneself.

--James Baldwin


bonfire in forest

The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.

--James Baldwin



blue painted wall with white paint

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them." Civil Rights activist, author, and critic James Baldwin was born on#ThisDayinHistory 1924.

--James Baldwin

gray building

Nakedness has no color: this can come as news only to those who have never covered, or been covered by, another naked human being.

--James Baldwin

green leaf

We are responsible for the world in which we find ourselves, if only because we are the only sentient force which can change it.

--James Baldwin

ocean wave in shallow focus lens

Everybody's journey is individual. You you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.

--James Baldwin

rock formation under starry skies

It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.

--James Baldwin

woman holding brown umbrella

We made the world we're living in and we have to make it over.

--James Baldwin


photography of white wall lot

No matter how it seems now, I must confess: I loved him. I do not think I will ever love anyone like that again.

--James Baldwin

pink and white abstract painting

Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.

--James Baldwin

sealion surrounded by rocks during daytime

Maybe everything bad that happens to you makes you weaker," said Giovanni, as though he had not heard me, "and so you can stand less and less.

--James Baldwin

Bryce Canyon National Park Sunrise Point at Utah

The mind is like an object that picks up dust. The object doesn't know, any more than the mind does, why what clings to it clings.

--James Baldwin

flying blue and green hummingbird

The place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it.

--James Baldwin

sunset

You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.

--James Baldwin


white brick wall planning

That was how I met her, in a bar in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, she was drinking and watching, and that was why I liked her, I thought she would be fun to have fun with.

--James Baldwin

blue sky and white clouds

She fitted in my arms, she always had, and the shock of holding her caused me to feel that my arms had been empty since she had been away.

--James Baldwin



grassland landscape

You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.

--James Baldwin



man jumping on hill during golden hour

Take no one's word for anything, including mine -- but trust your experience.

--James Baldwin

flat lay photography of several hanging ornaments

Lord, that Hollywood train, forever coming round the bend!

--James Baldwin

red tulips

The question of color was but another detail, somewhere between being six feet tall and being six feet under.

--James Baldwin



three pink tulip flowers

No one in the city, except your immediate family -- not always they-- says good morning.

--James Baldwin



black portable vinyl records

Writing is a political instrument.

--James Baldwin

woman in black sports bra and black leggings

Pessimists are the people who have no hope for themselves or for others. Pessimists are also people who think the human race is beneath their notice, that they're better than other human beings.

--James Baldwin

silhouette of kneeling man

If the hope of giving
is to love the living,
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.

--James Baldwin

photo of brown parquet

The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.

--James Baldwin

bare trees under blue sky

I must--to be honest--add that my ministry almost certainly helped me through my adolescence by giving me something larger than myself to be frightened about.

--James Baldwin

silhouette of woman during sunset

He wanted me to come home -- to come home, as he said, and settle down, and whenever he said that I thought of the sediment at the bottom of a stagnant pond.

--James Baldwin

yellow and white color illustration

A mob is not autonomous: it executes the real will of the people who rule the State. The slaughter in Birmingham, Alabama, for example, was not merely the action of a mob.

--James Baldwin

Longer Version:

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.



shallow focus photography of black DSLR camera

Whose little boy are you?

--James Baldwin

person sleeping on gray gang chair

The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see.

--James Baldwin



orange moon during nighttime

And here I was, left with only myself to deal with. It was entirely up to me.

--James Baldwin

purple flowers under sunny sky

I can't be a pessimist because I'm alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter.

--James Baldwin

Longer Version:

I can't be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So, I am forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive, whatever we must survive.


white wooden door

A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other.

--James Baldwin



gray concrete road between trees

We live in a nation of pigs and murderers.

--James Baldwin



four white balloons on white wall

We do not trust educated people and rarely, alas, produce them, for we do not trust the independence of mind which alone makes a genuine education possible.

--James Baldwin

silhouette of people riding bicycle

If you're treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they're real for you whether they're real or not.

--James Baldwin

pink and red flowers

No one is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart: for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.

--James Baldwin

woman standing on sunflower field

Love brought you here. If you trusted love this far, don't panic now.

--James Baldwin

black sailing boat digital wallpaper

The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.

--James Baldwin

yellow flower field under clear sky

An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.

--James Baldwin



black bird flying on white background

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

--James Baldwin

person holding sunflower bouquet during daytime

All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.

--James Baldwin

purple lavender flower

The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.

--James Baldwin

landscape photography of mountain

One must be careful not to take refuge in any delusion.

--James Baldwin



rock formation in body of water

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

--James Baldwin


green leaf tree near mountain covered by snow at daytime

Whoever debases others is debasing himself.

--James Baldwin

galaxy

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.

--James Baldwin

sunflower field during daytime

"One of these days," he said. "Everything bad will happen -- one of these days."

--James Baldwin

grayscale photography of woman

It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.

--James Baldwin

selective focus photography of black and white bird on stem

Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and that all ideas are dangerous -- dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say.

--James Baldwin

white cow eating green grass

He sat in an armchair, overlooking a foreign sea, still struggling to find the grace which would allow him to bear that revelation. For the meaning of revelation is that what is revealed is true, and must be borne.

--James Baldwin



rainbow desert

He had been bruised, so to speak, so badly that the eyes of strangers lacerated him like salt.

--James Baldwin

green trees under white clouds

Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore.

--James Baldwin

empty brown concrete stairs beside green grass under starry sky long-exposure photography

The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.

--James Baldwin


beach during daytime

The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live here, and have lived here, are so ugly.

--James Baldwin




sunflower with clear glass vase on gray table

Literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it.

--James Baldwin

white wall paint with black shadow

I imagine that one of the reasons that people cling to their hate and prejudice so stubbornly, is that they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.

--James Baldwin


sunset

Perhaps he is a fool or a coward but almost everybody is one or the other and most people are both.

--James Baldwin

three books on surface

The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.

--James Baldwin

green leafed vegetable on brown wooden surface

It's funny about people. Just before something happens, you almost know what it is. You do know what it is, I believe. You just haven't had the time--and now you won't have the time--to say it to yourself.

--James Baldwin

light blue

Goddammit to hell, I'm sick of it. Can't I get a place to sleep without dragging it through the courts? I'm goddamn tired of battling every Tom, Dick, and Harry for what everyone else takes for granted. I'm tired!

--James Baldwin


closeup photography of wall

It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I'd been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.

--James Baldwin


silhouette of mountains under blue sky during daytime

A liberal: someone who thinks he knows more about your experience than you do.

--James Baldwin

We wish you a perfect day!