In France, we mostly know the novelist (James Baldwin, born in Harlem in 1924, died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1987). His first collection of essays appears in Gallimard, in a very beautiful translation of Marie Darrieussecq. He is very young. His thinking is already built on his condition as a black man in racist America in the 1950s and 1960s: a fact that is still relevant today. With an exceptional power of fire, the texts written between 1940 and 1950 mix autobiographical remarks and reflections on literature, the press, the cinema. It does not undermine the criticism of the speech of the white-minded and the net refusal of progressivism, whether black or white (cautery on a wooden leg!). He rejects the victim's point of view. Endowed with a sense of implacable demonstration, in pages on the black protester literature of his time, he notes that the deploration, the rage, the confusion, even the rejection of life, outweigh the in-depth study and dialectical analysis. He takes the example of A Child of the Country (1940), Richard Wright (1908-1960), which does not account for the "decidedly wild paradox that is the situation of the American black". "This climate of anarchy and disaster, common to most black protest novels, has led us to believe that in black life there is no tradition, no code of conduct, no possibility of ritual or exchange . "
Baldwin also examines the ambivalent ties that Blacks and Jews have in a country where the white, non-Jewish American divides his minorities to better rule. His diagnosis of American evil is inexorable. He hammered it: "It is the white man who invented the black man. At the age of 18, a year before his father's death ("stop-gap preacher"), he is marrying in a New Jersey weapons factory. He learns "what being black means". Always the same remark: "We do not serve blacks. One day, faced with yet another refusal, he almost strangled a waitress. His hatred, at the bottom self-destructive, he will therefore seek to hide it. It only "reinforces the active principles of the oppression it denounces". In vibrant pages, he returns to the death of the father – whom he did not like – whose death coincides with his nineteenth birthday and the bloody riots of Harlem.
At the age of 24, fleeing segregation, which has become a major figure of the exiled writer, he compares the black American experience with that of Africans who have been "only" colonized from Europe. "The slave in exile remains connected to his past. He is "in short, able to maintain his identity". This is not the case of the American black slave. "The past was taken, almost literally, all at once. "