Life & Culture

“Love Him and Let Him Love You”: James Baldwin’s Quotes on Love

On what would have been James Baldwin’s 95th birthday, Another Man presents a selection of quotes to commemorate the renowned writer and activist’s enduring thoughts on love

Widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most important authors and thinkers, James Baldwin wrote plays, essays and novels that offered powerful dictum on race and identity in America. Born in Harlem in 1924 to a single mother, he began writing as a means to support his several younger siblings; later, his work would explore what it meant to be gay and black, what being oppressed means, and how the oppressor works. His novels were both tender and powerful: Giovanni’s Room, which explored the joys and frustrations of a gay relationship in Paris, remains one of the 20th century’s seminal queer texts. 

Baldwin’s essays, meanwhile, dialogued what it meant to be African American in the 20th century. These non-fiction works, Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name, both collections of essays, became bestsellers and each sold over a million copies. Delivered in a prose both eloquent but direct, Baldwin distinguished himself as not simply ‘black’ but ‘American’ – “his insistence on removing, layer by layer, the hardened skin with which Americans shield themselves from their country,” Orde Coombs would write of Baldwin the New York Times Book Review. This focus on the American experience, as an outsider, is part of the reason his work continues to resonate: his 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk, the poignant love story of a young African American couple in 1970s Harlem torn apart by a false accusation of rape, was adapted into a fim by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and and nominated for three Academy Awards.  

Baldwin’s determination to explore the gap between people of different races, religions, sexualities and backgrounds reflects his personal journey to self-acceptance. From footage of his speeches to the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro, based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, we’ve compiled ten of Baldwin’s quotes, on the subject of love. 

1. “If love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can.”

2. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war. Love is growing up.”

3. “The mind is like an object that picks up dust. The object doesn’t know, any more than the mind does, why what clings to it clings.”

4. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.”

5. “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior.”

6. “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.”

7. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

8. “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

9. “To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

10. “Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?”