James Baldwin Quotes On Change, Love and Freedom

James Arthur Baldwin was an American author who lived from August 2, 1924, to December 1, 1987. He received praise for his essays, books, plays, and poems, among other works. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, came out in 1953; years later, Time magazine listed it among the top 100 English-language books published between 1923 and 2005. 

95 James Baldwin Quotes

james baldwin quotes
  1. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
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2. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

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3. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore”

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4. “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”

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5. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

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6. “A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.”

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7. “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

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8. “People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.”

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9. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

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10. “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

James Baldwin Quotes About Life

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11. “You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”

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12. “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”

13. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

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14. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.”

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15. “Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity”

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16. “Colour is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.”

17. “Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”

18. “I often wonder what I’d do if there weren’t any books in the world.”

19. “Perhaps he is a fool or a coward but almost everybody is one or the other and most people are both.”

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20. “Though we do not wholly believe it yet, the interior life is a real life, and the intangible dreams of people have a tangible effect on the world.”

Famous James Baldwin Quotes

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21. “People are full of surprise, even for themselves, if they have been stirred enough.”

22. “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

23. “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”

24. “We held each other so close that we might indeed have been one body.”

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25. “Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society.”

james baldwin change quote

26. “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.”

27. “History is not a procession of illustrious people. It’s about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about.”

28. “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.”

29. “All art is a kind of confession.”

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30. “People can cry much easier than they can change.”

31. “The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through.”

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32. “Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience.”

33. “True rebels after all, are as rare as true lovers,and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life”

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34. “Time could not be bought. The only coin time accepted was life.”

35. “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

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36. “You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”

37. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

38. “Education is indoctrination if you’re white – subjugation if you’re black.”

39. “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

james baldwin quote on freedom

40. “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.”

41. “Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock. ”

42. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”

43. “A real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things that can be named.”

44. “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

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45. “People are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted.”

46. “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. ”

47. “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”

48. “When you’re writing you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know.”

Inspirational James Baldwin Quotes

49. “You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”

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50. “The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”

51. “There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”

52. “It is astonishing the lengths to which a person, or a people, will go in order to avoid a truthful mirror.”

53. “It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you.”

54. “One of the most terrible, most mysterious things about a life is that a warning can be heeded only in retrospect: too late.”

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55. “The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself.”

56. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

57. “There are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent, accumulating contempt and hatred of a people.”

James Baldwin Quotes On Freedom

58. “It was a gesture of great despair and I knew that she was giving herself, not to me, but to that lover who would never come.”

59. “It is your responsibility to change the society if you think yourself as an educated person”

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60. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be”

61. “For nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.”

62. “You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

63. “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.”

64. “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.”

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65. “I had decided to allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened me.”

66. “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. ”

67. “You took the best, so why not take the rest?”

68. “The writer’s only real task: to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art”

69. “The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions.”

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70. “Hatred is always self hatred, and there is something suicidal about it.”

71. “You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.”

72. “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

Thought-Provoking James Baldwin Quotes

73. “Everything was as it had been between us, and at the same time everything was different.”

74. “Literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it.”

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75. “No curtain under heaven is heavier than that curtain of guilt and lies behind which white Americans hide.”

76. “Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.”

77. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”

78. “The impossible is the least that one can demand.”

79. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?”

baldwin quote on love and pain

80. “I was guilty and irritated and full of love and pain. I wanted to kick him and I wanted to take him in my arms.”

81. “It goes without saying, I believe, that if we understood ourselves better, we would damage ourselves less.”

82. “Don’t let it make you bitter. Try to understand. Try to understand. The world’s already bitter enough, we got to try to be better than the world.”

83. “This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”

84. “It is a very rare man who does not victimize the helpless.”

She was in a terrible state

85. “She was in a terrible state, for she found that she could neither take her eyes off him nor look at him.”

86. “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

87. “Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it”

88. “To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

89. “Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.”

james baldwin on life

90. “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”

91. “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

92. “The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.”

93. “If you’re treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they’re real for you whether they’re real or not.”

94. “The way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”

freedom quote

95. “Nothing is more unbearable, once has it, than freedom.”

In the midst of complex social and psychological pressures, Baldwin’s fiction fictionalizes fundamental personal questions and struggles. Intricate narratives are woven from the intertwining themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class in the middle of the twentieth century in America, including the gay liberation movement and the civil rights movement. 

Although not always, Baldwin’s protagonists are African Americans, and gay and bisexual men frequently take center stage in his writing. In their quest for social and self-acceptance, these characters frequently encounter internal and external challenges. Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s second book, was written in 1956, years before the gay liberation movement, and features a lot of these dynamics.

Since his passing, his legacy has continued, and his works have received widespread praise when they are adapted for the big screen. I Am Not Your Negro (2016), a documentary that was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards, is an expanded version of the unfinished manuscript Remember This House. If Beale Street Could Talk, one of his books, was made into an Award-winning film, produced by Barry Jenkins  in 2018.

Additional Read: An Introduction to James Baldwin

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