Between the World and Me
In a rhythmic letter to his son Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story and the burden of being black in America.
Not what you expect in a non-fiction novel discussing race. Coates doesn’t lecture on why white supremacy is evil and the continuous struggle of the black man, instead it highlights a man’s personal account of navigating life with a black body. White supremacy and the condition of black people is obvious and implicit, it needs not be beaten into the reader’s head. Coates is a man full of questions. He wonders why his life is like it is and constantly poses questions that lead to more questions and more questions, but he also reads and learns to find answers, logic and theories. His story causes readers to relate it to their childhood in America and their family’s lineage. How do we get where we are? Was it planned, predetermined some decision made centuries ago? None of the above or maybe a bit of each?
America is an empire built on bodies. Black bodies. This fact is undeniable and the foundation of bodies that build America is still deeply ingrained in everything today. A never ending ripple effect. The villain’s motive hasn’t changed but its methods have. From whips and chains to organized ghettos and private prisons. The goal is the same: to control and commoditize the black body-“Black life is cheap but in America black bodies are natural resources of incomparable value."
Coates takes the reader from his childhood, where survival was his first concern and questions began to appear, to today. From childhood we grow with him to college, relationships and the starting of his young family. At each stage he shares personal accounts of racism, education, prejudice and death. Through all of this he shares his personal experiences and search to find what separates him (aka the black body) from the world.
One interesting aspect is that Coates is an atheist making his analysis and observations of the world unlike others I have encountered, especially in the black community where so much of our progress and reasoning is rooted in scripture. His hope is not above but grounded in the here and now. He doesn't rely on a higher being, life is now and only now and it is our job to preserve our life as it is in a constant state of danger-quickly snatched and erased with no repercussions for the persecutor. His stance causes you evaluate how you forgive and cope with the world.
The book is a quick read. And I definitely recommend others to check it out. It offers a strong analysis of what led to our current condition without being preachy but instead sharing a story that so closely resembles our own or that of our parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents. We are not far removed from the destruction of the past and the future flames that are rapidly rising. The novel is so personal though I wonder if anyone outside of the culture will understand Coates story, ideology or logic. The book is not offering an answer to all of our problems but instead sharing one man’s story, done succinctly and beautifully.