“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? — [X]
Ever since I read Between the World and Me I have been waiting for December so I could finally talk about it on The Book Wars. (It was hard to squeeze it into any of the themes we had going these past months.) Coates’ book is part epistolary and part essay, in which he seeks to answer the conundrum of what America says it stands for versus, well, the reality. Coates does it all while addressing his son–who is coming to see the hypocrisies of the American justice system–and in this way, it is truly the most loving and heartbreaking of letters. It is also what makes this the most honest of essays. There are no comforting euphemisms here:
The birth of a better world is not ultimately up to you, though I know, each day, there are grown men and women who tell you otherwise. The world needs saving precisely because of these men and women. I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you. And you must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful–the policeman who cracks you with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in your furtive movements. And this is not reducible to just you–the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you will never know. You have to make peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.
In this book, Coates discusses how America was built on the backs of black bodies and how the ideology behind race affects us now and will probably affect us in the future. He discusses clearly–and with examples from history and his own personal life– how racism has always been insidious and always been the heritage of black people in America. As one imagines, there are no band-aids on offer here, no quick-fixes … no fixes at all, really. Just the hope that understanding and awareness can make Coates’ son’s journey a safer one. But that only confirms Toni Morrison’s assertion that this is, in fact, required reading. If understanding and awareness doesn’t offer a starting point (to who knows where, somewhere better one hopes), I don’t know what will.
Between the World and Me is highly relevant and easy to understand. I think readers over the age of 15 or so can handle it? (The language is no different than I remember my history books being.) I just cannot recommend this book enough. It is probably strange of me to say this on a children’s lit blog, but if you’re going to read just one book that I recommend on here, I sincerely hope it’s this one.
Happy holidays, readers. <3