For many people, the events of the last four years have felt like the result of a failure by the U.S. to act upon the lessons of its past.
During the civil rights era, the writer James Baldwin bore witness to America’s second great racial reckoning in his work.
This week’s Black Voices Book Club selection, “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own” by Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor of African American history at Princeton University, revisits Baldwin’s words as the nation once again grapples with its racial conscience.
Glaude says he thinks Baldwin’s body of work has undergone a resurgence in the popular imagination because Baldwin’s thoughts on American democracy and race have been borne out in the fullness of time.
“In so many ways he was ahead of his time … he’s kind of forcing us to think about the problem from different angles and we’re in this moment where what he spied on the horizon in those early days have come to fruition,” Glaude said. “So folks are reaching for him because I think he offers the most insightful commentary on the contradiction at the heart of American democracy. He kept track of the serpent that always threatened to swallow whole our experiment.”
When “Begin Again” was released in June 2020, the country was in the throes of a racial uprising. Now, a month into a new presidential administration and six weeks removed from an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Glaude says the events of 2021 don’t necessarily point to progress.
“In some ways we have to read what happened on Jan. 6 as an extension of that racial reckoning. The racial reckoning isn’t just about the police killing us, it’s also about the ways in which whiteness continues to animate the distribution of advantage and disadvantage in this country,” he said. “And Jan. 6 was really about a mostly white mob sacking the Capitol in the name of white grievance and white resentment and white hatreds … I hope we don’t trade the fantasy of Trumpism for the fantasy of the Biden-Harris administration affirming America’s inherent goodness and putting the republic back to sleep. We still have a lot of work to do.”