The title is a quotation from James Baldwin. I got it from the address given by Obediah Michael Smith at the Bahamas Writers' Forum held at Chapter One Bookstore last month.I've meant to post an excerpt from that address for some time, but never did for one reason or another. The time, however, has come.Hear, now, from Obediah:
I can still recall the impact of encountering this remark by James Baldwin for the very first time: "If you don't know my name, you don't know your own."With what was this assertion connected? In other words, what was Baldwin saying? Who or what was he saying it about and to who were these remarks addressed? Is this James Baldwin the poet, novelist and playwright having come into his own? Is he addressing his country, The United States of America? His was certainly one of the most definitive voices of the crisis of the '60 in the U.S.A.James Baldwin, the writer, the citizen, with confidence, with arrogance even, asserts his significance. If I am insignificant he states to his United States of America or whom ever he is confronting, you are as well, without significance.It is about identity too. If I am nobody in America, who is to be considered somebody? If his identity was in questing, whose wasn't? Who had definition if he hadn't?Baldwin's confidence at this point seems to have resulted from a new found self-awareness, his own awakening as it were.As a writer, as person, as citizen, Baldwin would have struggled with himself, his art, and his world to rescue and to cultivate a self.Like a gardener with the flowers blooming - with the sun shining on them - with the rain falling on them, he seems satisfied. His words, somewhat boastful, are about success.He has gotten somewhere; he has produced something, himself. This he offers up. It is prayer or it is weapon or it is both.Baldwin's suggestion is about being tied together. He is tied to whomever he is addressing and they are tied to him. It is the right hand and the left hand or two feet to stand on or two eyes to see with. Baldwin's words are about things that come and go, like the blood, to and from the heart.I found it convenient recently; right here at home, to assert myself using these very words. What an important moment it was for me, I thought initially.A lady called to extend an invitation to me to appear as a guest on a local radio show. I was feeling quite good about it and going agreeably along until I was told of the need to supply them with questions I wanted to be asked.Oh, discovery finally, I thought. This has to indicate national curiosity about my poetry. This call, I though, suggested that someone had invested in knowing about my work. To ask me to provide questions though, suggested the very opposite.It was just more of me knowing about me. I have over time, read hundreds of interview. There was never any indication that this is how it was done. Where therefore was the scholarship? It seemed an attempt to stage something and suggest that it was actually happening. It seemed dishonest. It seemed like an attempt to deceive the Bahamian public or whoever the intended audience was."I am the producer," said this lady, "and this is how I [she might have said we] do it!" I insisted upon wishing to be interviewed by someone aware of or familiar with my work.She decided it was time to update me. "I do not who you are," she said. "Before just recently, I had never heard of you.""Why therefore am I receiving this call?" I asked, perplexed.She was the producer. It was the host of the show, she said, who asked to have me on.I've published 10 books I told her. And you're the producer? I asked. Abruptly our conversation concluded. I was insulted and angry.This seemed the perfect occasion for Baldwin's words I'd known and loved so well for so many years. These words were the weapon this moment needed. I sent her an e-mail: "If you don't know my name, you don't know your own!" I enjoyed these words very much.
Amusing, yes. But frightening on some level also, surely.