Category: A book chosen for you by your spouse, sibling, child, or BFF
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between The World and Me is a powerful and challenging book that possesses a unique ability to put into words, to grab out of the air and solidify those fleeting yet sometimes painful moments of what it means to be black in America. Time after time I found myself stopping and saying, often out loud, there it is, that’s what it feels like. It was simultaneously refreshing and condemning to hear phrases and mindsets from my childhood repeated but then exposed for what they really were. I found myself reading his words while replaying my memories as though watching episodes of different shows written by the same writers. While I identify personally with much of what Coates has to say, I do take issue with the destination of the truths.
My 3 Word Review was, “Not For Everyone”
Between The World and Me bore an almost impossible yet undeniable burden to explain even to the different parts of myself if what I was reading was insightful or inciting. I read lines that expressed beyond measure the complete accuracy of what it is to live in this country and wear this skin. Even while reading I simultaneously wished others would absorb these words while also rejecting its notions as hate mongering and unhelpful to the conversation.
The book, a letter from a father to his son, chronicles Coates’ own past and interpretations of those events. He recounts the “because we’re black” rules of life I’ve heard my whole life and have even been guilty of echoing, but somehow, hearing them from him, from someone not my mother, not my uncle, not my brother, not another black person trying to protect their body, and their mind, revealed a double and terrible standard.
“… I love you and I love the world… But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.”
“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that made America.”
“All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good” which is to say accept half as much.
Recounting a story about a white man who said, “I could have you arrested” – “But I am not ashamed because I am a bad father, a bad individual or ill mannered. I am ashamed that I made an error, knowing that our errors cost us more.
Each sentence hit like a distant voice of over from my mother. Real, profound, and more of a memory than a memoir.
But you need more than truth when those truths lead to a waste land. Don’t just describe the garbage dump, tell me how to get out of it.
Coates lays out the past and even present dangers of American racism, classism and “Us vs. Them” but leaves no hope for tomorrow. As if we needed to be reminded of the fresh wound that weeps before us, Coates doesn’t just depict it as a problem but a permanent fixture of our lives today and in ages to come.
“History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.”
“And no one would be brought to account for this destruction (my life), because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of “race,”….
Speaking on turning from old behaviors – “It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanity of your mind.
This is both irresponsible and dangerous. When you place the present faults, deep as they may be, as permanent stains that we must live with, struggle for struggle’s sake, what are we left with? What hope do we have for a better, more dignified us? How can we dream about the future when it’s already written in the pity of today? How can we tell our kids they can when history has already said they aren’t allowed? Don’t steal what hasn’t been birthed. Don’t snatch away what has yet to be created. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, are kin, yet live in separate homes. When Yesterday crashes Tomorrow’s party Today has to take him home because he’s drunk.
Coates own story seems to contradicts his interpretations of life. His father, William Paul Coates, is the founder of Black Classic Press, and his mother, Cheryl Waters, financially supported the family, giving Coates the freedom to dream, achieve and stand where he is today, a New York Times Bestseller. His fresh footprints show a path out of the despair and onto world stages. Where did he produce such a future? Where did he conjure up such a power that changed what can not be changed, to move what will not be budged?
Coates, a self proclaim “godless man” does what he can with the future he sees. He is not blind to what should be, but is intentionally ignorant to what can be.
Black America is long from stuck. There is ground to take yet we are as in control of our own destiny as any eagle soaring through the clouds above us. Is there truth here, yes. But unfortunately it is masked in a deep and unnecessary shroud of hopelessness.