Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The greatest and most transformative moments in Between the World and Me is when I found myself starting to say "Now, wait a second... I don't do that." THOSE are the moments every person who identifies as white needs to read. THOSE are the moments that make this book required reading when it comes to trying to teach people about the depth to which we've stripped black people of their humanity in this country. THIS is the book that should be forced into every person's hand when they try to say that racism is no longer an issue in this world because "didn't Martin Luther King, Jr fix it?" The moments in this book that made me most uncomfortable were exaclty the moments I needed to read.
I consider myself an ally. I was absolutely revolted by the murders (and let's not pretend they were deaths... they were out and out murders) of people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. I cheer the Black Lives Matter movement on from the sidelines and start fights on Facebook when some hillbilly starts his ALL Lives Matter spiel (usually accompanied by a profile pic of the Confederate flag). However, this book reminded me that I am still a part of the problem and I will continue to be a part of the problem as long as I wholeheartedly buy into the concept of (and my ability to attain) the American Dream. As long as I live, I am benefitting from a system that was founded on the backs of people being whipped, individuals being killed and families being sold a part. People constantly cry "I didn't personally own a slave! I don't use the n-word. SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BLACK (my absolute favorite one)" and think that absolves them. But it doesn't. Because the atrocities we've read about in slave narratives are still happening in our country in 2015. And the nuanced way in which people get away with it almost makes it more incidious than the outright buying and selling of human beings like cattle. That quieter form of racism is more dangerous because it's led an entire generation of people to believe that it no longer exists. And we all know the quote... "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Same deal. SAME FREAKIN' DEAL! Yes, now I'm yelling.
Now, besides that... why did Her Highness Toni Morrison note this particular book as required reading? I think it's because Ta-Nehisi Coates said what needed to be said in the most chilling and beautiful (yes completely accessible) manner I've ever seen. The way he discusses the complete annihilation of a people comes across as almost lyrical. And I think the beauty of his words doesn't downplay, but somehow emphasizes just how disgusting it is that fathers need to worry about their sons in this way.
It breaks my heart that I'll never have to tell Lorelai to "be twice as good", or to avoid wearing a dark hoodie or how to come out of a routine traffic stop relatively unscathed. And I wish I could apologize for this digusting benefit Lorelai will experience due to a mere accident of birth. Just as I wish I could apologize for receiving those same benefits myself. I'm sorry. I'll never be sorry enough to have it matter. But Mr. Coates... thank you for the gift of this work.
Synopsis: " This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. "
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of race, a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
"Between the World and Me "is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son and readers the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children's lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, "Between the World and Me "clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.