2016 feels like eons ago. At the time, Princeton professor of African-American Studies Eddie S. Glaude Jr. had just published Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. New York Times critic Jennifer Szalai called it a “blistering indictment of the Obama era,” as Glaude unwaveringly lampoons the Democratic machine for taking black voters for granted. Steadfast in his belief that a Trump victory in 2016 was unfathomable, Glaude suggested an “electoral blank-out” calling on black Americans to cast a vote for “none of the above.”
image via princeton.edu
Today, Glaude admits he made an “egregious mistake.” After four years of Trumpism, Glaude has made this confession in his new book Begin Again: James Baldwin’s American and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. Glaude rests heavily upon Baldwin’s shoulder, more so than many critics would like. For Balwin himself got criticism for his trajectory from artist to political speaker. Glaude defends this transformation, arguing that Baldwin acted against his artistic inclinations and lifestyle wishes in adopting the leadership position that so many felt they needed him to occupy.
“Not that the world was always willing to look,” reminds Szalai. In No Name in the Street, a brilliant book from 1972 (“his most important work of social criticism,” Glaude writes), Baldwin describes how white liberals couldn’t bring themselves to accept even the most glaring evidence of police brutality. To them, racism and bigotry were a matter of “hearts and minds,” not power. For many, Trump and the current climate demonstrate little change in Baldwin’s observations. Thus, it is towards Baldwin that Glaude still turns.
image via nytimes
Glaude considers Trumpism “the latest betrayal,” or the bringing-to-the-fore of something old and ugly in American politics. Begin Again is not nostalgic, not suggesting a return to the country that was before President Trump. Rather, Glaude calls for a re-envisioning.