‘Be­gin Again’ calls on Bald­win to make sense of to­day

Merced Sun-Star - - Community - BY JEN­NIFER SZA­LAI

It’s hard enough to think back four months, much less four years, but try to re­call the early weeks of 2016 – another time, another planet.

Ed­die S. Glaude Jr., a pro­fes­sor of African Amer­i­can stud­ies at Prince­ton, had just pub­lished “Democ­racy in Black,” his blis­ter­ing in­dict­ment of the Obama era. Un­der the watch of the first Black pres­i­dent, Glaude wrote, “black peo­ple have suf­fered tremen­dously.” A Demo­cratic ma­chine that took Black vot­ers for granted had con­vinced Glaude that the only way for­ward would be an “elec­toral blank-out.” He called on Black Amer­i­cans to turn out in record num­bers again in Novem­ber 2016 and cast a vote for “none of the above.”

This, mind you, pre­ceded Don­ald Trump plow­ing through the pri­maries to be­come the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. For Glaude, a Trump pres­i­dency was com­pletely un­fath­omable un­til it ac­tu­ally hap­pened. “White Amer­ica would never elect such a per­son to the high­est of­fice in the land,” he writes in his new book, “Be­gin Again: James

Bald­win’s Amer­ica and Its Ur­gent Lessons for Our Own,” re­call­ing what he told him­self in 2016. “I was wrong, and given my life­long read­ing of Bald­win, it was an egre­gious mis­take.”

Over the last sev­eral years there’s been a pop­u­lar resur­gence of in­ter­est in Bald­win’s work. Bald­win’s ex­am­ple took on re­newed rel­e­vance to­ward the end of the Obama pres­i­dency, as soar­ing hopes col­lided with an en­dur­ing re­al­ity of po­lice vi­o­lence and mass in­car­cer­a­tion. Writers found in Bald­win a mix of rigor and free­dom: Here was an un­spar­ing di­ag­nos­ti­cian who nev­er­the­less em­braced con­tra­dic­tions.

Glaude is more ex­plicit about look­ing to Bald­win not just for per­spec­tive and in­spi­ra­tion but for in­struc­tion and guid­ance: Com­bin­ing el­e­ments of biog­ra­phy, crit­i­cism and mem­oir, “Be­gin Again” “aims to think with Bald­win and to in­ter­ro­gate how an in­sid­i­ous view of race, in the form of Trump­ism, con­tin­ues to frus­trate any ef­fort to ‘achieve our coun­try.’”

Glaude con­sid­ers Trump­ism only “the lat­est be­trayal,” the re­vival of some­thing old and ugly in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. He re­peat­edly in­vokes what he calls Bald­win’s “nu­ance and com­plex­ity,” but in a state of emer­gency he con­cedes that a hard­nosed ap­proach to the elec­tion is a nec­es­sary first step.

The idea isn’t to re­turn the coun­try to what it was be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump; Glaude wants a whole­sale reen­vi­sion­ing, not a com­pla­cent restora­tion. As Bald­win put it in 1980, be­fore Ron­ald Rea­gan won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to vote for a dis­ap­point­ing Jimmy Carter: “It will be a coldly cal­cu­lated risk, a means of buy­ing time.”


By Ed­die S. Glaude Jr., Crown, 239 pages, $27. Be­gin Again: James Bald­win’s Amer­ica and Its Ur­gent Lessons for Our Own

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