Last night, in front of the fire, I finished reading the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It affected me in a way most books don’t, where I could actually feel my worldview expanding because I was looking into a world I had not looked into before, understanding it in a way I’d not understood it before.
I’d seen glimpses, sure. Hollywood is rife with movies about The Struggle of the Black Man. But I’m not sure a one of them made the impact that Coates’ book did. Before reading this book, I couldn’t identify why that was, but after reading it, I can, and the reason is uncomfortable to say: It’s because so many of those stories created and distributed by Hollywood, even though they were about blackness, were written for me, someone who, to borrow one of Coates’ phrases, was raised to believe herself to be white. And “Between the World and Me” is not for me. It’s for his son, who has a black body.
A lot of this book made me uncomfortable, largely because it states truths anyone who’s part of white America doesn’t really think about because we don’t have to think about it. In the early pages of the book, Coates recalls his son’s reaction to hearing that the killers of Michael Brown would go free, and he excused himself from the room because he didn’t want to cry in front of his father.
I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.
Coates takes the talk of race and racism that’s only glossed over in most other media I have consumed about the topic and cracks it open. He does so simply, without any kind of blinders or big words. Simply: This is life.