The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy

The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy

The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy

The Evidence of Things Not Said: James Baldwin and the Promise of American Democracy

Synopsis

The Evidence of Things Not Said employs the rich essays of James Baldwin to interrogate the politics of race in American democracy. Lawrie Balfour advances the political discussion of Baldwin's work, and regards him as a powerful political thinker whose work deserves full consideration. Baldwin's essays challenge appeals to race-blindness and formal but empty guarantees of equality and freedom. They undermine white presumptions of racial innocence and simultaneously refute theories of persecution that define African Americans solely as innocent victims. Unsettling fixed categories, Baldwin's essays construct a theory of race consciousness that captures the effects of racial identity in everyday experience. Balfour persuasively reads Baldwin's work alongside that of W. E. B. Du Bois to accentuate how double consciousness works differently on either side of the color line. She contends that the allusiveness and incompleteness of Baldwin's essays sustains the tension between general claims about American racial history and the singularity of individual experiences. The Evidence of Things Not Said establishes Baldwin's contributions to democratic theory and situates him as an indispensable voice in contemporary debates about racial injustice.

Excerpt

ames Baldwin credited his friend and mentor, Beauford Delaney, with showing him how to see. A painter, Delaney introduced Baldwin to the play of light and color and taught him to recognize, in grimy puddles and broken sidewalks, the life that had previously been invisible to him. I mention Baldwin's tribute to Delaney because Baldwin has served a similar function for so many readers. He certainly serves that function for me.

My interest in Baldwin is both scholarly and political. When people ask why a white political theorist would choose Baldwin as the subject of her research, the glib response I generally offer is that Baldwin chose me. But the answer is not really glib at all. What I mean is simply that Baldwin's words captured me, immediately and insistently. The Fire Next Time, in particular, enabled me to think through the complicated interrelation between democratic ideals and American racial history in a way that the traditional resources of the political theory curriculum had not. But his words speak beyond the concerns of political theory. By providing a moral vocabulary supple enough to contend with such issues as inequality, citi-

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