Today at Guernica I have a new essay about teaching James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time throughout Obama’s presidency. Here is a little of what I conclude:
It only became clear to me as I taught the book over the past few years ... following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, as we discussed the protests in Ferguson and the renewed vigor and revolutionary moment captured by Black Lives Matter, that Obama is not the key figure in this country. I had been wrong: the American future is precisely not as bright or as dark as his. And my students, who have paid attention to a chokehold on Staten Island and a shooting in greater St. Louis, and who remembered a black teenager killed in Sanford, Florida, and who are reckoning with recent killings in Tulsa and Charlotte and Los Angeles, now know what Baldwin was talking about. They’ve seen the private fears of white Americans projected onto American blacks. We see it every day. This is our ongoing crisis; there is serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And my students know this now. They’ve seen anger in the world, and it makes sense to them, and now it seems right to see it on the page.