James Baldwin Quotes On Love, Education, America, Change, Freedom

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore the 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. These James Baldwin quotes will motivate you.

Best James Baldwin Quotes

  1. “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  2. “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  3. “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  4. “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.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  5. “Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person – ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  6. “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  7. “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected – those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! – and listens to their testimony.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  8. “One cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  9. “You cannot fix what you will not face.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  10. “I’m not interested in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it, and I didn’t do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, too, for the very same reason… Anyone who is trying to be conscious must begin to dismiss the vocabulary which we’ve used so long to cover it up, to lie about the way things are.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  11. “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  12. “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  13. “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  14. “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  15. “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  16. “It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  17. “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 A. Baldwin
  18. “Artists are here to disturb the peace.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  19. “It is astonishing the lengths to which a person, or a people, will go in order to avoid a truthful mirror.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  20. “For nothing is fixed, 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 moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  21. “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 A. Baldwin
  22. “The purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  23. “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  24. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or whoever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  25. “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” ~ James A. Baldwin , James Baldwin quotes on love
  26. “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 A. Baldwin
  27. “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 A. Baldwin , James Baldwin quotes on education
  28. “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  29. “Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  30. “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  31. “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 A. Baldwin , James Baldwin quotes on change
  32. “The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life or the “conscience” of the civilized world.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  33. “This is the charged, the dangerous moment, when everything must be re-examined, must be made new when nothing at all can be taken for granted.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  34. “You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  35. “The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I become white.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  36. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  37. “Words like “freedom,” “justice,” “democracy” are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.” ~ James A. Baldwin , James Baldwin quotes on freedom
  38. “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 A. Baldwin
  39. “People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  40. “A liberal: someone who thinks he knows more about your experience than you do.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  41. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  42. “It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  43. “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 A. Baldwin
  44. “You don’t realize that you’re intelligent until it gets you into trouble.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  45. “The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  46. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  47. “People can cry much easier than they can change.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  48. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  49. “A person does not lightly elect to oppose his society. One would much rather be at home among one’s compatriots than be mocked and detested by them. And there is a level on which the mockery of people, even their hatred, is moving because it is so blind: It is terrible to watch people cling to their captivity and insist on their own destruction.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  50. “God be thanked for books! They are the voices of the distant and the dead.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  51. “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  52. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  53. “Remember, to hate, to be violent, is demeaning. It means you’re afraid of the other side of the coin — to love and be loved.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  54. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  55. “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 A. Baldwin
  56. “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  57. “There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  58. “What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really seem to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free.” ~ James A. Baldwin , James Baldwin quotes on America
  59. “Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  60. “In order to have a conversation with someone you must reveal yourself.” ~ James A. Baldwin

  61. “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” ~ James A. Baldwin
  62. “I think that the inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  63. “The reason people think it’s important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  64. “It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” ~ James A. Baldwin
  65. “People don’t have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you’re dead, when they’ve killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn’t have any character. They weep big, bitter tears – not for you. For themselves, because they’ve lost their toy.” ~ James A. Baldwin

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