Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for James Baldwin's 'If Beale Street Could Talk".
Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin
If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin, The Dial Press, New York, 1974
Recently I started a review of a film documentary, “Lenny Bruce: Without Tears”, using the following lines that I find appropriate to use to set the same kind of tone in reviewing James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk”:
“Okay, the average black male kid on the average ghetto city block today knows, and knows without blinking, and knows from some seemingly unspoken source deep within his genetic structure that the cards are stacked against him. That the cops, the courts, or some other part of the “justice” system will, eventually, come knocking at the door or grab him off the street for something, usually dope. The average Latino male kid on the average barrio city block pretty much now knows that same thing, again usually on some bogus drug charge. And nowadays even young black and Latina women are getting that same message coded into their psyches.”
And that sums up the message behind Baldwin’s’ work, at least the message that will last and that should be etched in the memory of every fighter for social justice.
Now I have been, as is my wont when I get “hooked” on some writer, on something of a James Baldwin tear of late, reading or re-reading everything I can get my hands on. At the time of this review I have already looked at “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and the play “Blues For Mr. Charlie”. Frankly those works, while well written and powerful did not remind me why I was crazy to read everything that Baldwin wrote when I was a kid.
The theme of the first work mentioned, a story of a fourteen year black boy coming to terms with the power of religion over his life did not today “speak” to a man who at fourteen was running as far away from religion as he could get. The second, based on the 1950s Emmett Till murder, again is well written but the facts of that case are enough in themselves to drive the action. And drive us, once again, to say Mississippi goddam. This book under review, “If Beale Street Could Talk”, although, perhaps not as well-written does “speak” to me these forty years later.
And why? Well, as the female narrator of this tale, "Tish”, notes being black while breathing, being black while being male, being black while breathing in the “projects”, being black while breathing and at the tender mercies of the white-run “justice system from the cop on the beat to the judge on high is enough to give one pause. And that sums up the story line, except this. Baldwin has gotten to some core truths about being on the “outs” and left to one’s own resources when the cards are stacked, no, double- stacked, against you. Now for those who may read this book, and you should, in so-called “post-racial” Obama America doesn’t it read like it could have been written today? I mean the today of the real mean streets of black existence in America. Think about just that statistic on the very high probability that a young black male will be in jail, on the way to jail, just out of jail or on parole before he gets very old and that “speaks” to a very different reality. Nice work, James.