My aesthetic vocabulary has been enriched by a word of my mother’s that I have never heard another person use: ongepotchket . As Mother pronounced it, the word sounded like “ang-ge-potch-key.” She would often enjoin me to go potchkey around outside when she was busy in the house, or to potchkey in the sand at the beach. It meant aimless play, and the judgmental version, “Stop potchkeying around,” could refer to anything from my making crayon marks on a tablecloth to dating a guy she thought was a pischer. Ongepotchket, defined as “messed up, slapped together,” denoted in my mother’s mouth too many styles mismatched, unharmonious in effect. An outfit that I thought gorgeous, because it contained all currently fashionable motifs, like a felt skirt with an appliquéd poodle studded in sequins worn with a sweater trimmed in fuzzy angora, might be ang-ge-potch-key, and rightly so, to my mother. To me, no other word so well expresses the absence of a coherent style in a work of art.
While he wrote about the movement, Baldwin aligned himself with the ideals of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Joining CORE gave him the opportunity to travel across the American South lecturing on his views of racial inequality. Baldwin became so involved in the movement that he was featured on the cover of Time for their Spring release on May 17, 1963. His insights into both the North and South gave him a unique perspective on the racial problems the United States was facing.