James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
The Fire Next Time is the most important book that I have ever read. My first reading of the book shook me at my core. Though it is approximately 115 pages or so, my first read took me 6 months. Because I was frightened by such courage. Never had I experienced a Black man write with such beautiful cadence and flow; never had I ever read a book that dealt with white supremacy with such resolution. Baldwin’s words to his nephew left me mesmerized and scared. I had never read words pressed to the edge of their meaning and then reconfigured like music. This was for me Coltrane coming out of the loft after writing A Love Supreme. Or, Nas in the booth with Premiere saying,” I don’t know where to start.” Only to finish New York State of Mind on one take, and no editing or mastering was done to the original take. Then we get Illmatic.
The Fire Next Time changed my world like no other book has, and I am not sure any text ever will. When Baldwin writes to his nephew, “You can only be destroyed by believing that you are really what the world calls a nigger.” This is the clarion call to Blackness for every kid that grew up in the south. Understand, I read this book for the first time at 34 years old and that call manifested at that moment. Because, honestly, I may have believed that I was the nigger. Whether a bad ass nigger or just a good nigger, I settled to that role. But Baldwin called his nephew and subsequently all of us, into a defiance, a revolution that nurtures through the destroying of the image constructed by white supremacy.
The Fire Next Time doesn’t ask for you to change it invites you into destruction— a destruction of white supremacy and a transformation into the beauty of Blackness.