73 James Baldwin Quotes (About Love, America, Writing, Oppression…)

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Novelist, essayist, playwright, poet -James Baldwin was one of the most notable minds in mid-20th century America. His works delve in the racial, sexual, and social distinctions in Western societies and bring to light the plights of African Americans and gay or bisexual men.

Born in 1924, Baldwin grew up in Harlem, New York with his mother and stepfather, who was a Baptist preacher. As a young student, he displayed great potential in his writings. At the age of 13, Baldwin had his first article published in The Douglass pilot, his school’s magazine.

As he matured, Baldwin encountered many obstacles as he took on odd jobs while he went to school. Even so, Baldwin never stopped writing. In 1944, he befriended Marlon Brando and was roommates with him for a time.

However, at the age of 24, Baldwin grew disillusioned because of the prejudice he faced as an African-American man. After receiving a fellowship, he moved to Paris, and there lived the majority of his adulthood. In Paris, Baldwin wrote many of his best works like Go Tell It On A MountainGiovanni’s Room, and Another Country.

Throughout his life, Baldwin became friends with other famous figures like Miles Davies, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison, among many others. At the year 1986, he was awarded France’s highest honor – Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur. Baldwin died of stomach cancer at his residence in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Paris one year later.

Listed below are a collection of James Baldwin quotes that demonstrate his fervent views on love, America, oppression, writing, and more.

James Baldwin Quotes About Love

1. “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 making of bread.”

2. “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

3. “The noblest spirit is most strongly attracted by the love of glory.”

4. “Be careful what you set your heart upon – for it will surely be yours.”

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

5. “Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?”

6. “The face of a lover is an unknown, precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.”

7. “The question of sexual dominance can exist only in the nightmare of that soul which has armed itself, totally, against the possibility of the changing motion of conquest and surrender, which is love.”

8. “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 Quotes About America

1. “It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”

It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind. - James Baldwin #quotes #america #education

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

3. “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.”

4. “The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live here, and have lived here, are so ugly.”

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

6. “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

7. “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.”

8. “It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.”

9. “The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the gesture of his adopted land.”

James Baldwin Quotes About Writing

1. “The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.”

2. “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.”

3. “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

I want to be an honest man and a good writer. - James Baldwin #quotes #writing

4. “The writer’s greed is appalling. He wants, or seems to want, everything and practically everybody, in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all.”

5. “The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.”

James Baldwin Quotes About Oppression

1. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

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

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

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

4. “Education is indoctrination if you’re white – subjugation if you’re black.”

5. “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.”

6. “The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions.”

7. “The reason people think it’s important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black.”

8. “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.”

9. “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.”

10. “It is a very rare man who does not victimize the helpless.”

11. “The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power-and no one holds power forever.”

James Baldwin Quotes About Youth

1. “The young think that failure is the Siberian end of the line, banishment from all the living, and tend to do what I then did – which was to hide.”

2. “There is a ‘sanctity’ involved with bringing a child into this world: it is better than bombing one out of it.”

3. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

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

4. “A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.”

James Baldwin Quotes About Society

1. “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.”

2. “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.”

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

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

4. “People can cry much easier than they can change.”

5. “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.”

6. “There are few things more dreadful than dealing with a man who knows he is going under, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others. Nothing can help that man. What is left of that man flees from what is left of human attention.”

7. “When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.”

8. “No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.”

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

10. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

James Baldwin, More Quotes & Sayings

1. “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.”

2. “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.”

3. “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. - James Baldwin #quotes #life #inspirational

4. “But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.”

5. “Voyagers discover that the world can never be larger than the person that is in the world; but it is impossible to foresee this, it is impossible to be warned.”

6. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.”

7. “We have all had the experience of finding that our reactions and perhaps even our deeds have denied beliefs we thought were ours.”

8. “Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one’s beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.”

9. “An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.”

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

11. “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”

Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. - James Baldwin #quotes #motivational

12. “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.”

13. “I’ve always believed that you can think positive just as well as you can think negative.”

14. “Europe has what we do not have yet, a sense of the mysterious and inexorable limits of life, a sense, in a word, of tragedy. And we have what they sorely need: a sense of life’s possibilities.”

15. “Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.”

16. “When a man asks himself what is meant by action he proves that he isn’t a man of action. Action is a lack of balance. In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.”

17. “Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.”

18. “If the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons.”

19. “No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time.”

20. “Pessimists are the people who have no hope for themselves or for others. Pessimists are also people who think the human race is beneath their notice, that they’re better than other human beings.”

21. “The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one’s key to the experience of others.”

22. “The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.”

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

23. “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.”

24. “It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian.”

25. “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

26. “The future is like heaven, everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now.”

If you wish to read some of James Baldwin’s works, we recommend you start with Go Tell It On The Mountain.