Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “race is the child of racism,” (among other denigrating labels), challenging the fabric of the Dream engineered by those “who see themselves as white” as it feeds into the portrait of a nation built on this falsehood, damaging the bodies of men and women who have been victims of this lie for centuries, through slavery and segregation and now disproportionate incarcerations and targetted violence in America today.
In this book-length letter to his son (which is also a scathing critique of democracy and its institutions), he explains his pessimism, and wariness over why being black in his growing years was different from his son Samori’s experiences today, with parental exasperation and despair at the turn of events in the new century and a worsening outlook of the Dreamers, or those who built their dreams “on the backs of black bodies” building dreams of exclusion down the ages. Coates cautions his son with both fervour and reluctance against his own fears. He also builds hope.
I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you–but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it (Coates, 107).
Coates’ edicts are wise to the shocks and horrors of the Civil War battlefields, the living rooms of the families of those murdered in racial killings, and the solace of “The Mecca” his high seat of learning and the “crossroads of black diaspora” at the Howard University in Washington DC. Buoying with soul and inspiration, from beneath sadness and disillusionment, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter traverses the question of what it is to be a free man in a black body–the answer is in the pursuit itself, he warns, before he parts with his painfully learned lessons from his forefathers and his own with love, nostalgia, moral debt and fear. Coates is a journalist with The Atlantic and the author of “The Case for Reparations”. Between the World and Me is unlike any book I’ve ever read in a while. He speaks freely, and beyond his times, acknowledging the limits of history and the irreversible damage to the lives of innumerable women and men across the ages.
It’s probably because I’m living in North America (in a time where racial discord and senseless shootings make for daily headlines) that this memoir takes on a new urgency. The values he fights for and the freedoms he speaks to are relevant the world over today. He can also be found on @tanehisicoates. But go read his work and feel at one with the world again.