James Baldwin Quotes


James Baldwin Quotes Collection.

  • Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. James Baldwin

  • Whoever debases others is debasing himself. James Baldwin

  • All art is a kind of confession. James Baldwin

  • The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it. James Baldwin

  • The impossible is the least that one can demand. James Baldwin

  • No man is a devil in his own mind. James Baldwin

  • Artists are here to disturb the peace. James Baldwin

  • There is a fearful splendor in absolute desolation. James Baldwin

  • For nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom. James Baldwin

  • Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. James Baldwin

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

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

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. James Baldwin

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

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

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

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go. James Baldwin

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


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

You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back. James Baldwin

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. James Baldwin

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. James Baldwin

To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him. James Baldwin

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

For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness. James Baldwin

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

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

Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. James Baldwin

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. James Baldwin

Also Read: Inspirational Quotes About Life and Struggles

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

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

Hatred is always self hatred, and there is something suicidal about it. James Baldwin

I often wonder what I’d do if there weren’t any books in the world. James Baldwin

Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law. James Baldwin


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

The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side. James Baldwin

You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself. James Baldwin

Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. James Baldwin

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly. James Baldwin

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. James Baldwin

Whatever you describe to another person is also a revelation of who you are and who you think you are. You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything. James Baldwin

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers. James Baldwin

Education is indoctrination if you’re white – subjugation if you’re black. James Baldwin

Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock. James Baldwin

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

American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. James Baldwin

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

Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated – in the main, abominably – because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires. James Baldwin

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

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

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


Your crown has been bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on your head. James Baldwin

For these are all our children, we will all profit by or pay for what they become. James Baldwin

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. James Baldwin

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

The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. James Baldwin

Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. James Baldwin

Youth must be the worst time in anybody’s life. Everything’s happening for the first time, which means that sorrow, then, lasts forever. Later, you can see that there was something very beautiful in it. That’s because you ain’t got to go through it no more. James Baldwin

The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. James Baldwin

Americans should never come to Europe,’ she said, and tried to laugh and began to cry, ‘it means they never can be happy again. What’s the good of an American who isn’t happy? Happiness was all we had. James Baldwin

In order for this to happen, your entire frame of reference will have to change, and you will be forced to surrender many things that you now scarcely know you have. James Baldwin

We cannot discuss the state of our minorities until we first have a sense of what we are, who we are, what our goals are, and what we take life to be. James Baldwin

And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky. James Baldwin

Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did. James Baldwin

You took the best, so why not take the rest? James Baldwin



Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did. James Baldwin

The writer’s only real task: to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

Heavenly witnesses are a tricky lot, to be used by whoever is closest to Heaven at the time. And legend and theology, which are designed to sanctify our fears, crimes, and aspirations, also reveal them for what they are. James Baldwin

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

If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real. James Baldwin

You don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the wall, because you don’t want to know. James Baldwin

The determination to outwit one’s situation means that one has no models, only object lessons. James Baldwin

A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. James Baldwin

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

Now, one hears from a long time ago that “white is merely a state of mind.” I add to that, white is a moral choice. It’s up to you to be as white as you want to be and pay the price of that ticket. You cannot tell a black man by the color of skin, either. But this is a democracy. James Baldwin

I remember what it was…to be young, very young. When everything, touching and tasting-everything- was so new, and even suffering was wonderful because it was so complete. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

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

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

The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world. James Baldwin

Be careful what you set your heart upon – for it will surely be yours. James Baldwin

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

The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. James Baldwin


There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. James Baldwin

Everything in life depends on how that life accepts its limits. James Baldwin

When you’re writing you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. James Baldwin

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. James Baldwin

One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places. James Baldwin

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I can conceive of no Negro native to this country who has not, by the age of puberty, been irreparably scarred by the conditions of his life. James Baldwin

But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent. James Baldwin

Any society inevitably produces its criminals, but a society at once rigid and unstable can do nothing whatever to alleviate the poverty of its lowest members, cannot present to the hypothetical young man at the crucial moment that so-well-advertised right path. James Baldwin

To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need. James Baldwin

I have not written about being a Negro at such length because I do not expect that to be my only subject, but only because it was the gate I had to unlock before I could hope to write about anything else. James Baldwin

Racism is a word which describes one of the results–perhaps the principal result–of our estrangement from our beginnings, from the universal source. James Baldwin

Yet it is only when one is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream one has long cherished, or a privilege one has long possessed, that one is set free…that one has set oneself free, for higher dreams, for greater privileges. James Baldwin

Men – not just babies like you, but old men, too – they always need to have a woman tell them the truth. James Baldwin

The rebirth of the soul is perpetual; only rebirth every hour could stay the hand of Satan. James Baldwin

The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality – for this touchstone can be only oneself. James Baldwin

but the Atlantic Ocean is deep and wide and money doesn’t hurry from the other side. James Baldwin

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

It was better not to judge the man who had gone down under an impossible burden. James Baldwin

If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring; whatever it bring must be borne. And at this level of experience one’s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry. James Baldwin

It is your responsibility to change the society if you think yourself as an educated person. James Baldwin

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. James Baldwin

I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine. James Baldwin

Books taught me that things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me to everyone who is alive and who had ever been alive. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

You face reality, not the lights. The lights go off as quickly as they come on. James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes About People


People can cry much easier than they can change. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be. James Baldwin

People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life. James Baldwin

You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

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 Baldwin

It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. James Baldwin

How can one respect, let alone adopt, the values of a people who do not, on any level whatever, live the way they say they do, or the way they say they should? James Baldwin

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. James Baldwin

The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless. James Baldwin

History is not a procession of illustrious people. It’s about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about. James Baldwin

It is astonishing the lengths to which a person, or a people, will go in order to avoid a truthful mirror. James Baldwin

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

There are people in the world for whom “coming along” is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive. James Baldwin

I prefer sinners and madmen, who can learn, who can change, who can teach-or people like myself, if I may say so, who are not afraid to eat a lobster alone as they take on their shoulders the monumental weight of thirty years. James Baldwin

Those kids aren’t dumb. But the people who run these schools want to make sure they don’t get smart: they are really teaching the kids to be slaves. James Baldwin


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

There are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent, accumulating contempt and hatred of a people. James Baldwin

After departure, only invisible things are left, perhaps the life of the world is held together by invisible chains of memory and loss and love. So many things, so many people, depart! And we can only repossess them in our minds. James Baldwin

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

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

If dirty words frighten you…I really don’t know how you have managed to live so long. People are full of dirty words. The only time they do not use them, most people I mean, is when they are describing something dirty. James Baldwin

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that *they* must accept *you*. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. James Baldwin

People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior. James Baldwin

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

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

The way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain. James Baldwin

We should certainly know by now that it is one thing to overthrow a dictator or repel an invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution. Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go. James Baldwin

The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs– as who has not?– of human love, God’s love alone is left. James Baldwin

People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction. James Baldwin

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. James Baldwin

Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn. James Baldwin

Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

People are full of surprise, even for themselves, if they have been stirred enough. James Baldwin

I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for? James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes About Love


Love was a country he knew nothing about. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

Rue rebels after all, are as rare as true lovers,and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life. James Baldwin

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. James Baldwin

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

Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind. James Baldwin

If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody. James Baldwin

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Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it. James Baldwin

But, when the chips are down, its better to be furious with someone you love, or frightened for someone you love, than be put through the merciless horror of being ashamed of someone you love. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

I was guilty and irritated and full of love and pain. I wanted to kick him and I wanted to take him in my arms. James Baldwin

No one knows very much about the life of another. This ignorance becomes vivid, if you love another. Love sets the imagination on fire, and, also, eventually, chars the imagination into a harder element: imagination cannot match love, cannot plunge so deep, or range so wide. James Baldwin

It was a gesture of great despair and I knew that she was giving herself, not to me, but to that lover who would never come. James Baldwin

He relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others in order to end the racial nightmare and acheive our country. James Baldwin

The face of a lover is an unknown, precisely because it is invested so much within oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment. James Baldwin

I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass. James Baldwin

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. James Baldwin

If the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. James Baldwin


With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes. James Baldwin

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 Baldwin

Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? James Baldwin

And love will simply have no choice but to go into battle with space and time, and furthermore, to win. James Baldwin

Great art can only be created out of love. James Baldwin

Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real. James Baldwin

The world’s definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor one’s family, friends, or lovers – to say nothing of one’s children – to live according to the world’s definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that. James Baldwin

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. James Baldwin

Love is not at the mercy of time and it does not recognize death, they are strangers to each other. 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. James Baldwin

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