Price of the Ticket

We sat in that cafe, catching up on new thoughts and theories I might have discovered.

My presentation was due the next morning and I was giving it a test run with my boss, a retired Captain with a voracious appetite for philosophy and painting.

He said-

You know, I’ll tell you about this one sentence I read that made me sit straight up, shot right through me like a bolt of lighting.

I shifted my attention from the avocado burrito sitting on my plate.

He said-

Right there in the middle of James Baldwin’s The Price of the Ticket, I came up to it: “later, in the midnight hour, the missing identity aches”-


He went back to his wine, as if emotionally spent just saying those words out loud.

I caught that sentence with my teeth, like a bullet that was headed straight for my soft brain. For now, I was going to tuck it under my tongue for later hours of quiet contemplation.

We were talking about erased, misplaced and displaced identities. About how a people have to give up their name and all that it carries in order to get a ticket to a dream, to fit in, to escape discrimination, to gain a coveted status.

James Baldwin is saying the identities some Europeans had to surrender coming in through Ellis Island created a hollow that ached when no one was watching.

Many Irish and Jewish people from Europe.. Germans and Polish too, changed their names in order to fit in to a new white race in America. We no longer know them by their rich European ethnic cultures, but by a dull branding of whiteness.

Identity erasure is the price they chose to pay for a ticket to a dream.

A black man like Baldwin knew about this ache in a thousand different ways, and he had the experience of white lovers who carried this hollowness with them. The price of the ticket was very different between the races.

I have tried to explain it in a theory I called Irrational Belonging, not the ache of missing identities in the midnight hour, but the rationalizing of any identity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *