140 James Baldwin Quotes

These James Baldwin quotes are proof that words have the power to change the world, and sometimes, it’s just what you need to take the next step forward.

In this collection, we included 140 quotes that help us easily understand even the most complex of social issues and maybe help us figure out what really matters in life.

Continue reading to find out.

Best James Baldwin Quotes

James Baldwin Quote - You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented.Pin

1. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

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

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

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

James Baldwin Quote - The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim.Pin

5. “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.”

6. “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.”

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

8. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

9. “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.”

James Baldwin Quote - People can cry much easier than they can change.Pin

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

11. “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.”

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

13. “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - There are so many ways of being despicable, it quite makes one's head spin.Pin

15. “There are so many ways of being despicable, it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”

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

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

18. “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.”

19. “In order to have a conversation with someone you must reveal yourself.”

James Baldwin Quote - If you're afraid to die, you will not be able to live.Pin

20. “If you’re afraid to die, you will not be able to live.”

James Baldwin Quotes on Humanity and One’s Identity

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

22. “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.”

23. “Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - If the word integration means anything.Pin

25. “If the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.”

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

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

28. “If we understood ourselves better we would damage ourselves less.”

29. “A man is not a man until he’s able and willing to accept his own vision of the world, no matter how radically this vision departs from that of others.”

James Baldwin Quote - Men are men, and sometimes they must be left alone.Pin

30. “Men are men, and sometimes they must be left alone.”

31. “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.”

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

33. “The world’s definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor one’s family, friends, or lovers—to say nothing of one’s children—to live according to the world’s definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that.”

34. “Everything in life depends on how that life accepts its limits.”

James Baldwin Quote - There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.Pin

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

36. “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also so much more than that. So are we all.”

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

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

39. “For he was one of those poets who escaped the terrors of writing by writing all the time.”

James Baldwin Quote - People evolve a language in order to describe.Pin

40. “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.”

41. “I think you’ve got to be truthful about the life you have. Otherwise, there’s no possibility of achieving the life you want.”

42. “We’re all bastards. That’s why we need our friends.”

43. “There are people in the world for whom ‘coming along’ is a perpetual process—people who are destined never to arrive.”

44. “People always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love—a principle that releases them from personal responsibility.”

James Baldwin Quote - The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality.Pin

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

46. “To defend oneself against a fear is simply to ensure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced.”

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

James Baldwin Quotes on the Need for Change

48. “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - All I've ever wanted to do is tell that I'm not trying to solve anybody's problemsPin

50. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is tell that I’m not trying to solve anybody’s problems, not even my own. I’m just trying to outline what the problems are.”

51. “And once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.”

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

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

54. “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.”

James Baldwin Quote - The point is to get your work done.Pin

55. “The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.”

56. “It is a terrible thing, simply, to be trapped in one’s history, and attempt, in the same motion (and in this, our life!) to accept, deny, reject, and redeem it—and, also, on whatever level, to profit from it.”

57. “And everything was different. I was walking through streets I had never seen before. The faces around me, I had never seen. We moved in silence which was music from everywhere.”

58. “If the world wasn’t so full of dead folks maybe those of us that’s trying to live wouldn’t have to suffer so bad.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view.Pin

60. “You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes—everything.”

61. “The future is like heaven—everyone exalts it but no one wants to go there now.”

62. “You face reality, not the lights. The lights go off as quickly as they come on.”

63. “For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”

64. “It is one thing to overthrow a dictator or to repel and invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution.”

James Baldwin Quote - There were so many things one did not dare to know.Pin

65. “There were so many things one did not dare to know. And were they all patiently waiting, like demons in the dark, to spring from hiding, to reveal themselves, on some rainy Sunday morning?”

66. “One had to make one’s way carefully here, for all these people were blind.”

James Baldwin Quotes on Love and Desires

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

68. “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.”

69. “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.”

James Baldwin Quote - Love him and let him love you.Pin

70. “Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?”

71. “Be careful what you set your heart upon—for it will surely be yours.”

72. “One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself—that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving.”

73. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - I think that the inability to love is the central problem.Pin

75. “I think that the inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive.”

76. “Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.”

77. “Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it.”

78. “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

79. “I love a few people and they love me and some of them are white, and isn’t love more important than color?”

James Baldwin Quote - It's a miracle to realize that somebody loves you.Pin

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

81. “And love will simply have no choice but to go into battle with space and time, and furthermore, to win.”

82. “You can’t see yourself all over. But I can. Part of you is honey, part of you is copper, some of you is gold.”

83. “The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs—as who has not?—of human love, God’s love alone is left.”

84. “Great art can only be created out of love.”

James Baldwin Quote - But the war of an artist with his society is a lover's war.Pin

85. “Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.”

86. “The face of a lover is unknown, precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.”

87. “If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody.”

88. “His touch could never fail to make me feel desire; yet his hot, sweet breath also made me want to vomit.”

89. “The first love disappears, but never goes. That ache becomes reconciliation.”

James Baldwin Quote - I loved her as much as ever.Pin

90. “I loved her as much as ever and I still did not know how much that was.”

91. “No matter how it seems now, I must confess: I loved him. I do not think I will ever love anyone like that again.”

James Baldwin Quotes on Societal Differences and Injustice

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

93. “The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you.”

94. “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

James Baldwin Quote - The only thing that white people have that black people need is power.Pin

95. “The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power—and no one holds power forever.”

96. “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

97. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.”

98. “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction.”

99. “The determination to outwit one’s situation means that one has no models, only object lessons.”

James Baldwin Quote - If you're treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person.Pin

100. “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.”

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

102. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind; indifference makes one blind.”

103. “The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - The betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe.Pin

105. “The betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe.”

106. “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it.”

107. “Does the law exist for the purpose of furthering the ambitions of those who have sworn to uphold the law, or is it seriously to be considered as a moral, unifying force—the health and strength of a nation?”

108. “But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately, power without morality is no longer power.”

109. “No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.”

James Baldwin Quote - Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty.Pin

110. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

111. “Nakedness has no color. This can come as news only to those who have never covered, or been covered by another naked human being.”

112. “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.”

113. “A liberal: someone who thinks he knows more about your experience than you do.”

114. “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.”

James Baldwin Quote - the turning point in one's life is realizing that to be treated like a victim is not necessarily to become onePin

115. “Perhaps the turning point in one’s life is realizing that to be treated like a victim is not necessarily to become one.”

116. “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most—and listens to their testimony.”

117. “Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did.”

118. “Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

119. “We live in a nation of pigs and murderers.”

James Baldwin Quote - It is a very rare man who does not victimize the helpless.Pin

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

121. “It is not a racial problem. It is a problem of whether or not you’re willing to look at your life and be responsible for it, and then begin to change it.”

122. “I loved my country, but I could not respect it, could not, upon my soul, be reconciled to my country as it was. And I loved my work, had great respect for the craft which I was compelled to study, and wanted it to have some human use. It was beginning to be clear to me that these two loves might, never, in my life, be reconciled: no man can serve two masters.”

123. “I sometimes think, with despair, that Americans will swallow whole any political speech whatever—we’ve been doing very little else, these last, bad years”

124. “That door is the gateway he has sought so long out of this dirty world, this dirty body.

James Baldwin Quote - This has everything to do, of course, with the nature of that dream.Pin

125. “This has everything to do, of course, with the nature of that dream and with the fact that we Americans, of whatever color, do not dare examine it and are far from having made it a reality.”

James Baldwin Quotes on Writing, Education, and Success

126. “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

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

128. “The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out, but something forces you to anyway.”

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

James Baldwin Quote - The price one pays for pursuing any profession is an intimate knowledge of its ugly sidePin

130. “The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.”

131. “Writers are extremely important people in a country, whether or not the country knows it.”

132. “You don’t realize that you’re intelligent until it gets you into trouble.”

133. “Books taught me that things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me to everyone who is alive and who had ever been alive.”

134. “A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.”

James Baldwin Quote - t is true that the more one learns, the less one knowsPin

135. “It is true that the more one learns, the less one knows.”

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

137. “Drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.”

138. “The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.”

139. “The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.”

James Baldwin Quote - Writing for me must be a very controlled exercise.Pin

140. “Writing for me must be a very controlled exercise, formed by passions and hopes.”

Did These James Baldwin Quotes Make You Want to Be the Spark That Changes the World?

James Baldwin used his voice to inspire millions through a variety of mediums—even through plays and film critiques.

And even though most of his work was published between the 1950s-1970s, he was able to give insight to his political environment that is still pertinent to today’s issues.

Which of these quotes are your favorites? What other inspirational quotes do you want to include? Let us know through the comments section below.

Amy Finn

Hi. I'm Amy, the founder of this blog. I love quotes and enjoy sharing the best ones with you.

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