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New Left Review I/26, July-August 1964

H. Orlando Patterson

The Essays of James Baldwin

Reading Baldwin has been, for me, a strange, complex experience. It was one containing a mixture of agony, pride (sometimes real, often false and embarrassing), displeasure, envy, admiration, and profound disagreement. I have confessed this as a warning to the reader who might be expecting a rational, impartial discourse. This I have tried but found impossible. The reason may perhaps lie in the fact that I am, like Baldwin, a negro, and although as a Jamaican I found myself in conflict not so much with ‘the man’ in person, but more with the ghost of ‘the man’—or, if you like, his colonial heritage—as everyone well knows, struggling with a ghost can in its own way be almost as difficult, and as frightening, as struggling with the real thing, especially when there are many respectable people of your own kind trying to convince you that it doesn’t exist. And if it is difficult for a Negro to be impartial about his own condition, it is well-nigh impossible for him to be impartial about another negro claiming to be impartial about his condition.

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H. Orlando Patterson, ‘The Essays of James Baldwin’, NLR I/26: £3

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