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74 Finally, by bringing into relief an ethics that privileged the well-being of those concrete people toward whom one responded and considered their plural desires and needs—rather than disregard these differences and begin from rational determinations based on what one personally believed was right—they followed philosophers like John Dewey, Emmanuel Lévinas and feminists who prioritized the interpersonal practices of sympathy, compassion and radical hospitality. 75 The contemporary American moment promises a post-racial politics that assumes the virtues of color blindness and the triumph of legal equality.
16 Another reason might be that for Baldwin freedom was, too often, associated with divestment: refusing to do something. Indeed, Jack Turner rightly sees Baldwin’s conception of freedom as partly associated with divestment. 18 Yet Baldwin never stopped thinking about freedom: it was always deeply lodged somewhere in a region of his mind. His writings from his earliest essay collection, Notes of a Native Son (1955), to his essays after Fire did offer a theory of freedom that expanded the American political tradition.
Here he seemed to be saying that the American artist created what Soviet communism rejected: providing people with choice and the opportunity for self-creation. On the other hand, Baldwin’s vision of artistic responsibility seemed to align with the African American freedom struggle, which was seeking political liberty in the form of free speech, social opportunity and voting rights. Political freedom meant different things for racial integrationists and black militants. After returning to America B a l dw i n’s R e c o n s t r u c t i o n o f A m e r i c a n F r e e d o m 27 from his self-imposed exile to Europe to write essays about the American South (1957), Baldwin would join forces with the integrationists led by Martin Luther King Jr.