Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color. And this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst.
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, The Dial Press New York 1963
This book is so deeply touching to read in December of 2011 after a semester of reviewing with my advanced literature class at the City College the life of Malcolm X as written by Afro-American historian Manning Marable. In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin describes brilliantly the experience of being black in the urban North in precisely the moment in which Malcolm X had captured the imaginations of so many people. I suppose reading his description of his first encounter with Elijah Mohammed in 1963 goes back to my earliest and dimmest comprehension of the Black Muslims.
My mother eagerly devoured The Fire Next Time when it first came out, and I first read it myself not too long after. I wonder how much I understood at the age of 11?