A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde

As an African American male raised in Harlem, the bustling, culturally diverse environment that Morrison has painted in Jazz is easy for me to visualize despite the large gap in time. A troubling truth that Morrison grapples with–and this connects to her mission to write for black people–is the intraracial war happening between men and women of color. In response to physical and emotional abuse from their male counterparts, the women take matters into their own hands–this, in a way, manifests itself into the form of Violet’s knife; the same knife she shoved into Dorcas instead of Joe Trace. I think it’s quite important for us to realize and acknowledge that Jazz is perhaps the closest we’ve ever been to truly experiencing a text about/for black people this semester. In much the same vein, prolific writers James Baldwin and Audre Lorde sat together in 1984, to talk about the very issues that run rampant in this novel. The interview still haunts me to this day; what does it mean when men and women within a single ethnic group commit acts of violence against each other? I don’t know the answer; and I argue that Morrison, Baldwin, and Lorde are just as troubled and dumbstruck by the situation. But I also think that all three are working towards understanding the problem before they can ultimately solve it, as best they can. Here is the interview. Enjoy and, hopefully, as I was, be enlightened.

One Reply to “A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde”

  1. First off, thank you for providing this interview Jason. I found it to be extremely interesting, eye-opening, and haunting (although I’m sure for different reasons than you felt haunted by this interview) all at the same time. The interview wasted no time as it started off on a very strong foot, and going off from our discussions in class about the both/and, I couldn’t help but be struck by one of James Baldwin’s opening sentences; “To be a Black American is in some ways to be born with the desire to be white.” Although I am not entirely sure of what to make of this powerful sentence, I did feel that it set up the rest of the interview nicely as it displays a paradox that must, without a doubt, create an unmeasurable amount of tension and frustration among Black American’s who feel this both/and. Another particularly troubling example of the both/and appearing in this interview, comes shortly after with the acknowledgement that the Black American exists in the American dream only as a nightmare. James Baldwin almost seems to explicitly use the both/and as he says, “It is difficult to be in a place where you are despised and also promised that with endeavor you can accomplish the impossible.” This sentence struck me with the use of the word despised, which signifies an intense disgust, and it is no wonder to me that there can be so much tension and frustration within a single ethnic group. Relating both of these examples of the both/and and the subject matter of the interview in general, to our discussions of the word purgatory -> purge -> purify and the structural systems of our culture, I can’t help but notice that the Black American’s desire to be white is in part due to their existence in the American dream. While the Black American may try to purge themselves of the “contaminants” that makes them black, this creates an extreme amount of pressure within the structure, like turning coal into a diamond, but I think that sometimes instead of working through that pressure, it escapes into the physical and emotional abuse that the interview depicts within a single ethnic group. Hopefully that last bit made sense!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.