They made us into a race. We made ourselves in a people.
The reality of a black person is vastly different than that from a white person. Our worlds are separated, and our bodies hold different weight within the universe. With fists and teeth clenched, we move through the world. You saunter through life, whereas we briskly walk, trying not to hesitate too long. Our moments in this world are brief and often over looked, which is why we shine so bright-we must fully experience everything before our light is snuffed out. To understand us, is to understand an arcane and hidden secret. Yet, not many seek to bear the weight of the secret, for that would mean stripping one’s self down to humanity. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay and memoir Between the World and Me looks at the reality of racial relations in America and what it means to be black in America in today. If willing, this book hits you in the core. If listening, this book will awaken you and bring you into touch with reality. If looking, this book with refocus your attention on an ailing matter in America.
Structured as a letter, Between the World and Me Coates’ writes to his teenage son Samori about the reality of growing up black in America. He intertwines it with his own personal memory of growing up in Chicago and his experience of police brutality. He refers to white people as “Dreamers” people unwilling to connect with their humanity. He writes about the heritage of black folks, the oneness we inherently have with one another. He contemplates race relations in America and ties them in with his experience of being out of America. The book is a collection of emotions and people and stories that have helped shaped his curriculum vitae. Although it does dive into black culture and heritage, it is an exposé on how humans are treated different in the world based on skin color. Coates’ passionately bears all when educating his son on his responsibilities.
And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.
This book has been deemed important by many, and I can only agree. It contains so many important facts about the way life is, how black bodies have no importance in the world, even when we shaped and built the world. I thought it incredibly endearing but also somber that one has to warn their child about how the world does not see value in their life. However, through the exact realness of it all, Coates reminds and encourages his son to never break or bend on who he is. To be rooted in his blackness as he writes, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you.” I can foresee this book being on English AP lists everywhere, as it can reach a wide array of audiences. Coates is a fantastic writer, and I can only imagine more great things coming from him.
But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversation.