Recommendation: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My recommended reading for this week is “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a story of one man talking to his son, and how his pain relates to all of us, Blacks in reality and Whites in a dream.
‘Between the World and Me’ book humbled me in every way. I would say the writing overshadows the message, which ends up not being a terrible thing because the message is powerful, well done and necessary. It is executed with humanity, passion, and precision. A testament to the quality of the body of work.
Coates does a fantastic job of personifying Black suffering in America with his constant use of the body.
“We must protect the body,” he seems to always repeat. “My body is mine and has been made to suffer, through no fault of my own.” He won’t let you forget.
He forces you to be aware of you, removing the separation between literary rhetoric and violence.
Because when we discuss slavery, we do not discuss a part of history, we talk about that body that enjoyed the feel on sunlight, that body that grew hungry like you and me, the one with hopes and dreams, lashed daily for profit and a white democracy. Coates connects all the black bodies of then and now, unshackling them from forgotten pages in books. We become real, the past marching with the present.
I was taken by the beauty of the text. Coates’ method is breathtaking. You are in awe. The book is alive with the essence of which it speaks. Coates use of metaphor is vibrant and proof that there is such a thing as the Africana Diaspora. In reading, you are hooked by a style that is undeniable and unique to a people’s experience and a writer’s magical delivery.
In the end, I was excited that it was written and happy that we have people out there that can tell our story perfectly.
Quite honestly, I wanted my struggle for black identity to be a more private matter, sort of a side project. My plan was to recommend only books that help people follow their dreams. That is what my content is about, the drawings, articles, and videos. But this book transforms those with a side project into full-blown activists. It converts the curious into the engaged. And most importantly it causes pause in those who would deny apparent truths, forcing them to consider. There is something truly inspirational about every page.
And after the reading experience, if you can continue to deny, then your denial will say more about you than the book itself.
On a personal level, Kristina my white girlfriend has always been passionate about the conversation and alleviation of these pressures caused by race. We have had many arguments because she nominates solutions. She has, what I call, idealistic theories of how the world ought to be. She doesn’t believe that society should be separated by color, but it is tough for us to get past the first five minutes of any discourse because I grow frustrated. I usually end up telling her. “That sounds all well and good, of course we ought to stick together and work with whites. But it is not that simple.”
There is so much I could never explain to her about the underlying frustrations of the everyday black man. I tell her that she needs to be black to understand fully. She hates when I say that. She nods but doesn’t understand.
I never thought she could be drawn to the core of the matter. But with this book, I believe it is possible. We will see. She is yet to read the book, but she will, and I am excited for what solutions she offers afterward. I can’t wait for her shock at the complexities, how a system can soak into ever crevice of black life. I am confident that Kristina will be brought up to speed because of Mr. Coates. This book expresses so many issues that once seemed inexplicable, the Black Bond.
Coates does our illusions no favors. He exposes the deeper meaning underpinning the mantras that guide us through the night of the Black experience. He creeps up on you because he unhinges those safe edicts you once thought were bolted by good intentions of guidance. For example, he says, “us Blacks have to work twice as hard to get the same as a white person.” And I shrug, yes. I knew that already. I live that. Coates then explains, “that means black people get half of what they deserve.” Simple. And boom, you are unsettled.
He does this repeatedly, in varying ways using contemporary examples as anecdotes so we may never bury the truth under a carpet of an ancient past. It is still right here.
But I do have a hang up over the book. I never felt a sense of hope. I could not find that release that most books would offer.
It is evident THEY are the problem and everything THEY have done. And believe me, Coates does not leave the “THEY” of his text as an esoteric element of society. He is precise and thorough. “THEY” end up being everyone that is not of the black experience, even those who claim to fight for the cause while benefitting from white privilege. THEY still walk around and enjoy a life of manufactured superiority, free to take up gentrified sidewalks of Brooklyn.
Whether THEY accept it of not, the black experience is another galaxy for those who aren’t bound to it at birth. So where does my girlfriend fit in all this? She would give it all up, every advantage. I know it, and I have seen it. She has faith in people. Still, she makes a choice, and I have none.
There are too many THEYs.
The book hones too closely on the battered tree in the forest and misses the forest entirely, but no one could dare ask for otherwise. Because this was a story that needed to be told.
I found the book to be a bit dangerous in its potential to create division. In its eloquence and persuasion, I could see how a “Us vs. Them” mentality could be steeled, subconsciously and consciously. It almost seems that because THEY, the white dreamers, have historically and systematically been the enemy and oppressor, and THEY always will be. At least, it lingers as so.
Admittedly, I am left a bit unclear on where Coates stands on a resolution. Is there an inclusive remedy? Because I will not be a part of an exclusive cause.
Coates certainly believes there is a battle to be fought but at times I feel as though he leaves his troops without a strategy. Which again does not take away from his work because Coates leaves us with his book, and therefore a responsibility to think, and to do. He tells it as it is and leaves you to deal with reality.
Welcome to the bottom of the well, try to breathe.
His role may have been sufficiently fulfilled just in the perfect encapsulation of everything I could never say to Kristina.
Every sentence in this book packs a sort of gravity that pulls you from comfort, back to the muck of the Earth. You don’t achieve this level of detail and connection without a profound commitment and a fermenting frustration.
Overall, I recommend the book. It changed something thoroughly in me. ‘Between the world and me’ feels like the second chapter of my story of identity which began with the Malcolm X autobiography five years ago. It took that long for me to find another work of literature that could give me such pride. And now I am figuring out my role. There is so much to read.
Examine the world you live in, as Coates has done. The only thing unique about Mr. Coates is his level of curiosity and time of practice. You are just as capable and as wise. If you try. Your experience is just as valuable and profound. Through your observations, we can solve this. I deeply feel this. And I urge you to think of togetherness, between blacks and whites as well. But we do need your effort so we can get to figuring this shit out.
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