James Baldwin Quotes

What are your favorite James Baldwin quotes?

James Arthur Baldwin was an author, writer, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist who is famous for his essays and writings on the experiences of black people in America. During his lifetime, James Baldwin published multiple books like The Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, Another Country, If Beale Street Could Talk, Nobody Knows My Name as well as many others.

Here are some best James Baldwin quotes about oppression, love, education, freedom, change, America, writing, community, identity, justice and many other interesting facets of life:

Best James Baldwin Quotes

Best James Baldwin Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

6. 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

7. 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

8. 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, who had ever been alive.

James Baldwin

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

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

11. 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

12. 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

13. 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

14. 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

15. 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. 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, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Oppression

James Baldwin Quotes On Oppression

16. It must be remembered that the oppressed and the oppressor are bound together within the same society; they accept the same criteria, they share the same beliefs, they both alike depend on the same reality. -James Baldwin

17. We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.

James Baldwin

18. You go to white movies and, like everybody else, you fall in love with Joan Crawford, and you root for the Good Guys who are killing off the Indians. It comes as a great psychological collision when you realize all of these things are really metaphors for your oppression, and will lead into a kind of psychological warfare in which you may perish. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Love

James Baldwin Quotes On Love

19. Love was a country he knew nothing about. -James Baldwin

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

21. 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

22. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance. -James Baldwin

23. So what can we really do for each other except–just love each other and be each other’s witness? And haven’t we got the right to hope–for more? So that we can really stretch into whoever we really are? -James Baldwin

 24. 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

25. 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

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

27. Love is like the lightning, and your maturity is signaled by the extent to which you can accept the dangers and the power and the beauty of love. -James Baldwin

28. So what can we really do for each other except – just love each other and be each other’s witness? And haven’t we got the right to hope – for more? So that we can really stretch into whoever we really are? -James Baldwin

29. All for the first time, in the days when acts had no consequences and nothing was irrecoverable, and love was simple and even pain had the dignity of enduring forever: it was unimaginable that time could do anything to diminish it. -James Baldwin

30. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth. -James Baldwin

31. Terrifying, that the loss of intimacy with one person results in the freezing over of the world, and the loss of oneself! And terrifying that the terms of love are so rigorous, its checks and liberties so tightly bound together… Their relationship depended on her restraint… The premise of their affair, or the basis of their comedy, was that they were two independent people, who needed each other for a time, who would always be friends, but who, probably, would not always be lovers. Such a premise forbids the intrusion of the future, or too vivid an exhibition of need. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Education

James Baldwin Quotes On Education

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

33. 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

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

James Baldwin Quotes On Freedom

James Baldwin Quotes On Freedom

35. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving. And, after all, one can give freedom only be setting someone free. -James Baldwin

36. 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

37. 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

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

39. You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. -James Baldwin

40. Passion is not friendly. It is arrogant, superbly contemptuous of all that is not itself, and, as they very definition of passion implies the impulse to freedom, it has a might intimidating power. It contains a challenge. It contains an unspeakable hope. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Change

James Baldwin Quotes On Change

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

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

James Baldwin

43. 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

44. 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

James Baldwin Quotes About America

James Baldwin Quotes About America

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

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

47. 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

48. To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage. -James Baldwin

49. It is dangerous to be an American Negro male. America has never wanted its Negroes to be men, and does not, generally, treat them as men. It treats them as mascots, pets, or things. -James Baldwin

50. In America, though, life seems to move faster than anywhere else on the globe and each generation is promised more than it will get: which creates, in each generation, a furious, bewildered rage, the rage of people who cannot find solid ground beneath their feet. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Writing

James Baldwin Quotes On Writing

51. He was one of those poets who escaped the terrors of writing by writing all the time. -James Baldwin

52. All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up. -James Baldwin

53. You write in order to change the world.

James Baldwin

54. He wanted to go home and lock his door and sleep. He was tired of the troubles of real people. He wanted to get back to the people he was inventing, whose troubles he could bear. -James Baldwin

55. When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Community

James Baldwin Quotes On Community

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

57. In the culture to be born there will no doubt be old and new elements. How these elements will be mixed is not a question to which any individual can respond. The response must be given by the community. But we can say this: that the response will be given, and not verbally, but in tangible facts, and by action.

James Baldwin

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

James Baldwin Quotes On Identity

James Baldwin Quotes On Identity

59. An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience. -James Baldwin

60. The question of identity is a question involving the most profound panic – a terror as primary as the nightmare of the mortal fall. -James Baldwin

61. An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger. -James Baldwin

62. Assimilation was frequently but another name for the very special brand of relations between human beings which had been imposed by colonialism. These relations demanded that the individual, torn from the context to which he owed his identity, should replace his habits of feeling, thinking, and acting by another set of habits which belonged to the strangers who dominated him

James Baldwin

63. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. -James Baldwin

64. What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really seem to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Quotes On Justice

James Baldwin Quotes On Justice

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

James Baldwin

James Baldwin Another Country Quotes

James Baldwin Another Country Quotes

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

67. Don’t let it make you bitter. Try to understand. Try to understand. The world’s already bitter enough, we got to try to be better than the world. -James Baldwin

68. Why am I going home? he asked himself. But he knew why. It was time. In order not to lose all that he had gained, he had to move forward and risk it all. -James Baldwin

69. But he had the tendency of all wildly disorganized people to suppose that the lives of others were tamer and less sensual and more cerebral than his own. -James Baldwin

70. You don’t know, and there’s no way in the world for you to find out, what it’s like to be a black girl in this world, and the way white men, and black men, too, baby, treat you. -James Baldwin

71. 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

72. We all commit our crimes. The thing is to not lie about them — to try to understand what you have done, why you have done it. That way, you can begin to forgive yourself. That’s very important. If you don’t forgive yourself you’ll never be able to forgive anybody else and you’ll go on committing the same crimes forever. -James Baldwin

73. The trouble with a secret life is that it is very frequently a secret from the person who lives it and not at all a secret for the people he encounters. He encounters, because he must encounter, those people who see his secrecy before they see anything else, and who drag these secrets out of him; sometimes with the intention of using them against him, sometimes with more benevolent intent; but, whatever the intent, the moment is awful and the accumulating revelation is an unspeakable anguish. The aim of the dreamer, after all, is merely to go on dreaming and not to be molested by the world. His dreams are his protection against the world. But the aims of life are antithetical to those of the dreamer, and the teeth of the world are sharp.

James Baldwin

74. If men don’t know what’s happening, what they’re doing, where they’re going–what are women to do? If Richard doesn’t know what kind of world he wants, how am I to help him make it? What am I to tell our sons? -James Baldwin

75. She marched into the street, found a liquor store and bought a bottle; and the weight of the bottle in her straw handbag somehow made everything real; as the purchase of a railroad ticket proves the imminence of a journey. -James Baldwin

76. Perhaps now, though, he had hit bottom. One thing about the bottom, he told himself, you can’t fall any further. He tried to take comfort from this thought. Yet there knocked in his heart the suspicion that the bottom did not really exist. -James Baldwin

77. But it’s not possible to forget anybody you were that hung up on, who was that hung up on you. You can’t forget anything that hurt so badly, went so deep, and changed the world forever. It’s not possible to forget anybody you’ve destroyed. -James Baldwin

78. I don’t give a damn if there’s any hope for them or not. But I know that I am not about to be bugged by any more white jokers who still can’t figure out whether I’m human or not. If they don’t know, baby, sad on them, and I hope they drop dead slowly, in great pain. -James Baldwin

79. He leaned up a little and watched her face. Her face would now be, forever, more mysterious and impenetrable than the face of any stranger. Strangers’ faces hold no secrets because the imagination does not invest them with any. But 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. -James Baldwin

80. The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life. -James Baldwin

James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain Quotes

James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain Quotes

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

82. Folks can change their ways much as they want to. But I don’t care how many times you change your ways, what’s in you is in you, and it’s got to come out. -James Baldwin

83. But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.

James Baldwin

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

85. His mind was like the sea itself: troubled, and too deep for the bravest man’s descent, throwing up now and again, for the naked eye to wonder at, treasure and debris long forgotten on the bottom—bones and jewels, fantastic shells, jelly that had once been flesh, pearls that had once been eyes. And he was at the mercy of this sea, hanging there with darkness all around him. -James Baldwin