The Lie at the Heart of America

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Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s new book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, pulls few punches. It begins with and dwells deeply on what Baldwin, a towering mid-20th century American literary figure, called the “lie at the heart of America.” The lie is the value gap — the ways America has elevated the worth of white lives over those of people in other racialized groups. Baldwin’s unfettered honesty about this lie, explains Dr. Glaude, means that we have a chance to imagine a world that is otherwise. Just as Baldwin went abroad as an “elsewhere” from which to renew and sustain his critique of American identity, today Dr. Glaude urges us to begin again. We can, he argues, “choose to be better. We need only build a world where that choice can be made with relative ease.” The choice to see things differently confronts the hard truths America hides from itself, especially those which are bound up in the origin stories Americans tell ourselves about who we are and where we have come from. To see those truths as Baldwin did means the opportunity to begin again, starting with recognizing past hurts and ongoing harms without letting go of the promise of redemption or even salvation that follows. On this 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, please enjoy this timely and critical discussion about race and religion in the U.S.

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