Letter From a Region In My Mind

by James Baldwin, 1962.

Excerpted from a longer essay in the latest edition of The New Yorker. Baldwin describes inner struggles with his race, religion, sexuality, and academic prowess as a young boy and man, growing up in Harlem. He describes how alienated he felt from his neighbors, finding their lifestyles scary yet seductive. From pimps to preachers, the streets were always tempting his fate. He finds temporary refuge as a young minister in a local church. But, he sees the leaders of these houses of worship as hypocritical as any other leaders of his community. He feels most conflicted about his blackness, and is introduced to the idea of White people as Devils by Elijah Muhammed himself when Baldwin is invited to dinner at Muhammed’s Chicago Nation of Islam headquarters/home.

Although he finds no solace in the Black nor White communities, Baldwin’s writing takes him far and wide, personally, literarily and literally to Paris. This essay clearly illustrates the deep-rooted fatalistic culture of the Black man in America and although the writing is unwieldy it is at the same time sublime.

A perfect contextual education to understand today’s racially-charged environment. Not much has changed since then, and it’s not surprising after reading this.

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