On July 1, 1968, closely following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Esquire magazine published an interview with James Baldwin. At the very start of this interview, soliciting Baldwin’s view on the state of race relations in the United States, the editors of the magazine asked him rather straightforwardly: “How can we get the black people to cool it?” Baldwin responded without hesitation: “It is not for us to cool it.” I argue that this accusation-framed-as-question is an example of what philosopher Lewis Gordon calls a theodicean grammar, which refers to the way one expresses the belief that something or someone possesses god-like qualities or is, in actuality, a god. The result of adopting such a standpoint is that when problems arise, the deified being(s) evade responsibility, for it is presumed that “god” in its perfection cannot have imperfections. Against this view, it appears, then, that the responsibility for dealing with problems inherent in a given system, structure, or society rests squarely with those experiencing or having called attention to the issues at hand. Through a close read of this interview, I examine how the Esquire editors’ queries to Baldwin and his treatment of the question of race in the United States reveal the theodicizing evident in misrecognizing/mislocating the sources of black people’s suffering.

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