James Baldwin in the Spring of 1963

James Baldwin: Who is the Nigger?

Well, I know this, and anyone who has ever tried to live knows this: what you say about somebody else, anybody else, reveals you.  What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own fears and desires.  I’m not describing you when I talk about you.  I am describing me.

Now here in this country we’ve got something called a nigger.  There’s not such term, I beg you to remark, exists in any other country in the world.  We have invented the nigger.  I didn’t invent it.  White people invented it.

I’ve always known, I had to know by the time I was seventeen years old, what you were describing was not me and what you were afraid of was not me.  It had to be something else. You had invented it.  So it had to be something you were afraid of and you invested me with it.  Now that so, no matter what you have done to me, I can say to you this, and I mean it.  I know you can’t do anymore and I got nothing to lose.  And,  I know and I’ve always known, and really ALWAYS, that’s a part of the agony, I have always known that I’m not a nigger.

But if I am not the nigger, and if it’s true that your invention reveals you, then who is a nigger?  I am not the victim here.  I know one thing from another.  I was born, I’m going to suffer and I’m going to die.  The only way you get through life is know the worst things about it.  I know that a person is more important than anything else, anything else.  I learned this because I’ve had to learn it.  But you still think, I gather, that the nigger is necessary.  Well it’s unnecessary to me so it must be necessary to you.  And I give you your problem back.  You’re the nigger baby.  It isn’t me.

Take This Hammer filmed with James Baldwin in the Spring of 1963 was produced for National Educational Television by the KQED film unit San Francisco.

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3 responses

  1. Correction: “and if it’s true that your invention you drew” -> “and if it’s true that your invention reveals you”

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