In 1962, James Baldwin gave a speech to a community church in New York City titled, “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” and it left an impression on the people because of the meaning tied behind it. The speech discusses problems that the twentieth century United States faced and with that, Baldwin hopes to convince the audience to understand his message delivered and take action as a result of that. Issues such as racism, social inequality, and poverty, Baldwin implies that artists should be the ones to guide and set examples to the desperate Americans. Baldwin’s words not only conveyed human suffering during his time, but also his words hold true to what people experience even a century after.
In appealing to pathos, the sensibility of the reader, James Baldwin addresses the human suffering. He hopes that he can persuade the audience into learning the more significant impact that they can have in people’s lives, and how artists are supposed to help them. Baldwin states, “I am not interested really in talking to you as an artist. It seems to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily,” he addresses this to the audience, not as an artist, but as someone that is trustworthy and unbiased (Baldwin 50-51).
Baldwin is setting himself to the same level as the audience- perspective-wise- so that the audience does not feel that Baldwin is biased and instead, influence artists to pay closer attention of the social disputes present within this country. Another instance in which Baldwin appeals to the sensibility of the reader is to address a solution to human suffering. He says, “The first one is that the poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. but because of a poet who lived in Greece thousands of years ago. And what he said then about what it’s like to be alive is still true” (Baldwin 51).
Baldwin conveys that poets, or artists, are the only people in this world that comprehend us, humans, the way that we would like to because they are not trained to tell us something that is scripted. Artists express themselves, they sometimes are seen as truth tellers of the problems around you, just as any close friend would. This gives the idea or responsibility to all the artists in the world that they should pay attention to the human sufferings and use their unique way of communicating their messages to the world. A proposition that Baldwin makes to solve human hardship is to produce more of the people that will guide the country forward, “in a country like ours, and at a time like this when something awful is happening to a civilization, when it ceases to produce poets, and, what is even more crucial, when it ceases in any way whatever to believe in the report that only poets can make.” (Baldwin 51). Baldwin’s plan is like a domino effect, by developing more people that can shape the future of America.
To make the country recover and be a better place for people of color and those who are living under inequality, it is necessary for poets to set this foundation. To further articulate this point, Baldwin states There is nothing you can do for the Negroes. It must be done for you. One is not attempting to save twenty-two million people. One is attempting to save an entire country, and that means an entire civilization, and the price for that is high. The price for that is to understand oneself. Most of us have arrived at a point where we still believe and insist on and act on the principle, which is no longer valid, that this is such and such an optimum, that our choice is the lesser of two evils, and this is no longer true. (Baldwin 57). Baldwin states that if a person or artist wants to help someone, he/she must start by helping himself/herself first because world problems are beyond racism, the problem is enormous and much more has to be done to help the nation and a more significant sacrifice as well. When he says “it must be done for you” Baldwin is referring that understanding people from other races will give them freedom as well as to yourself, but for that to happen we must understand each other first.
Artists are the ones people look up to who they listen to and who we try to be every day, for example, many of my friends want to be rappers and they rap who a style very similar to those of the artists that they listen to, not only that but also, many of my friends, including myself, try to dress the way that many celebrities dress. To further his claim, Baldwin tells a story to his audience, and it depicts more problems that artists face besides all of the challenges that they already faced. The story goes “You walk into a room and somebody says ‘what do you do?’ And you say, ‘I write’ And they say, ‘Yeah, but what do you do?’ And you wonder, what do you do? And what’s it for?”
Through the use of this story, Baldwin further supports his claim that artist, or in this case writers, are often given an attitude that their work isn’t a proper, or that their job is always looked down at. That would make any writer or someone who is a great writer or any other great talent associated to the arts think about why do they do they do they keep working and what’s their work for, but Baldwin explains that the impact of their work is way beyond to what an ignorant society can see and that their job should be more valued.
In conclusion, Baldwin’s speech is still relevant to today’s society because all the situation that New York was going through back when this speech was given, still holds true to the twenty-first century. For example, a person with a liberal arts diploma struggles more to find a job and be paid equally as any other profession. Besides that, one thing that has changed since Baldwin’s time is that “poets” or artists, in general, are much bigger role models to today’s teenagers. For example, rappers, who are considered poets nowadays, such as XXX tentacion, juice WRLD, or Logic, make songs that appeal and help different types of audiences that go through different kinds of struggles in their lives.
Overall, Baldwin’s legacy of what an artist’s true integrity is has proven to be effective as many people think that the songs by those artists, for example, helped heal many people psychologically.