Monday, August 25, 2014

MTV VMA's Ferguson PSA and the Quotery of James Baldwin


Iconoclast poet James Baldwin was quoted in a PSA that aired during the 2014 broadcast of the MTV VMA's that addressed the death of Michael Brown on August 9, in Ferguson, Missouri. The quote, "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced." is superimposed against the backdrop of a Welcome to Ferguson sign while the chant, "Hands up, don't shoot!" echoes in the background of the 15 second public service announcement.

The PSA featuring the Baldwin quote was one of two that ran last night as part of MTV's Look Different campaign. The campaign is designed to, "erase the hidden racial, gender and anti-LGBT bias all around us."

In keeping with the theme of the campaign and the use of James Baldwin's words in the PSA we have assembled quotes from James Baldwin that address these issues of love and hate and have put them into verse. Quotery if you will.

Love and Hate

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.

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

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.

If a society permits
one portion of its citizenry
to be menaced or destroyed,
then, very soon,
no one in that society is safe.
The forces thus released in the people
can never be held in check,
but run their devouring course,
destroying the very foundations
which it was imagined they would save.

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.

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.

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.

Neither love nor terror
makes one blind:
indifference makes one blind.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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


— James Baldwin


It is with the utmost respect for James Baldwin that we have pieced together some of his quotes into a narrative that reflects the divisions amongst us today. We attended Baldwin's enshrinement into the American Poets Corner in 2011 and this exercise hopefully builds on the sentiments of the Look Different campaign while remaining true to Baldwin's ideals.

While this is not the first time that the Bar None Group has used "quotery" within these pages (previous subjects have included Jean-Paul Sartre and Metta World Peace) it is the first instance that we address matters of a serious nature using quotery. We do so with the best of intentions remembering James Baldwin and Michael Brown. Imperfect as we all are.