Nikki and James

As long as the assumptions are the same, nothing will change.

-Nikki Giovanni

In this profound 2 hour discussion between Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin on a program called SOUL!, introduced by Ellis Haizlip and filmed in London in 1971, there are so many important topics covered; race, gender, sex, politics, progress for the Black movement, contemporary Black writers and activists and so much more. Nikki Giovanni is a determined and somewhat idealistic 28 years old and James who is in his 50s tempers and informs Nikki’s energy to the best of his ability by trying to explain things based on his own personal experiences as a Black man, a Black writer in America and how things have shifted, changed or not changed up until this point. I never wanted this discussion to end. I loved how even when they would come to places of tension where they cannot agree because of coming from differing perspectives, they still have such love and reverence for one another. This is how elders and the youth should always be with each other.

One point on which they evidently divert in opinion is on the state of love and relationship between the Black man and woman. Nikki is adamant that Black people must take their freedom, must be creative, that Black men must be loving and supportive to Black women and their families at all costs. She alleges that “the only thing that has changed since ’54 is the Black woman” and that her generation demands a new basis for manhood.

James attempts to explain what has been taken from Black men, how racism and White hatred and violence has crippled them and made them incapable of truly being the men that Black women deserve at that time. But Nikki does not except this and furthermore asserts that Black men have always had more of themselves to offer their women and children than they have understood or thought to be valuable. She is so candid and vulnerable about her need to be loved and to be in a nurturing relationship. It’s so different to me from the “I can do it all alone and don’t need a man” attitude that I feel we adopted largely from a White woman feminist agenda. And I completely understand why so many of us have adopted that attitude. I just feel that which each wave of “change,” we tend to ostracize or drag those who express needs that differ from those we feel are in line with the latest trending bit of “liberation.”

Nikki and james Sepia

Wanting love, needing to be loved is not a style or a trend. It is human instinct. It is emotional survival. The Black family has been systematically torn apart through the ages in ways that still tear us apart today. And Black women has have always taken up the pieces and made a way out of no way.

All I know that works in the world is a relationship.

Nikki says, very plainly, very truly. It is the only thing that works in this world. A relationship. Whether it be between humankind and the divine, humans and nature, or among humans in general. We are all that we have. She also says, in response to James explanation about the violent destruction by racism of any dream Blacks have been motivated by that if we don’t have a dream we have to fake it. She says, if you can fake it with the crackers you work for (lord knows we’re still doing that) then we can fake it with each other and work from there.


Trust me, you have to watch the entire discussion to see how it concludes. When I saw this video  it was this clip that I saw of Nikki telling Baldwin that the Black man must lie to her if he loves her. And it wasn’t until I watched that I understood where she was coming from and the context of the times she was living in and how little it differs from today. These two incredible souls were both, in their art and activism way ahead of their own times. The fact that they could meet and engage in such a loving and rigorous way and that it exists in posterity for us to study is legendarily instructive.

Categories Black Artists, Black History Month, Black Thought, Black WomenTags , , , ,

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