Mar 10

James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison: Powerful Quotes

What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. From I Am Not Your Negro

James Baldwin (1924-1987) and Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), both African American, are two of the most respected writers of their times. Whereas Baldwin was prolific in print, Ellison completed only one novel, Invisible Man (1952).

With the release of Raoul Peck‘s acclaimed I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about Baldwin’s unfinished novel, Remember This House, it feels fitting to present some of his and Ellison’s best and still-relevant quotes.

JAMES BALDWIN:

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.

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

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.

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

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.

Everybody’s journey is individual. If 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.

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

RALPH ELLISON:

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

I remember that I’m invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.

What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?

I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself.

Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.

They can laugh, but they can’t deny us. They can curse and kill us, but they can’t destroy us. This land is ours because we come out of it, we bled in it, our tears watered it, we fertilized it with our dead. So the more of us they destroy, the more it becomes filled with the spirit of our redemption.