Last month, the Sales Tax Institute made a commitment to dismantle our internal biases and become active in creating change by eliminating injustices in our country. Each member of our team remains accountable for this promise.
After reflecting as a staff and hearing every voice, we made our first step toward bettering ourselves for the good of others. Our team re-established our company book club, and first on the list is The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a Black writer who explored the topics of race, sexuality, and religion throughout his lifetime. His writing quickly took the form of activism when he so eloquently expressed the state of affairs in the United States, and the country’s false sense of progress towards social equity.
The Fire Next Time is a book made up of two essays. The first is a letter to Baldwin’s 14 year old nephew. This letter serves as both a warning and encouragement that as a Black American, he will face hatred that he can respond to by spreading love, even though it is undeserved. This letter represents the conversation that many Black American families must have with their children to explain the injustices imposed upon their race as a result of institutionalized racism.
The second essay is an autobiographical account of institutional racism, religion, and oppression in the United States throughout James Baldwin’s life. Beginning as a coming of age story, this essay represents a young man searching for his purpose in life.
The options visible to Baldwin in his neighborhood were either involvement with gangs or commitment to the church. He saw many people before him attempt the college route only to be placed back into society as they would be without a degree. Baldwin committed to the church early on in life but later left after being disenchanted. After leaving Christianity, Baldwin was intrigued by Islam, but didn’t find it to be the right fit.
Baldwin goes on to illustrate white people’s failure to repair the decades of hurt placed upon Black Americans. He calls for white people to learn to look at themselves in the mirror, recognize themselves and their histories for what they are, and act to make up for the injustices they have ignored.
Baldwin ends the book with the quote, “No more water, the fire next time.” One way to interpret this quote is that if white people won’t make the effort to change and accept Black people for their beauty and inherent worth and work alongside them, racial turmoil will never end and our society will suffer for it.
Reading The Fire Next Time was an enlightening opportunity to see racism from the perspective of a young black man struggling to find his place in the world. It was also disheartening to see the similarities to what was happening in society then to today. We can’t sit back and let future generations look back on 2020, wondering why we didn’t see what was happening and take actions to better our entire society.
If you’ve read The Fire Next Time and have other thoughts or insights, we’d love to hear them. Email us here.
What’s next? Our next book on the list is White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Join us in educating ourselves.
We encourage you to support your independent local bookstores. Our neighborhood bookstore is Sandmeyer’s Bookstore in historic Printer’s Row Chicago. Join us and support your own favorite local store!