Last summer I chose to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between The World And Me,” a book that is as vulnerable as it is compelling. The author brings a sense of sad truth and beauty to the reality of being an African-American in America. Speaking through his past experiences, Ta-Nehisi writes a 150 page letter to his son about the risk that his black body is constantly in, and how the love, support, and friends he forms will help guide him through the unfairness and brutality.
During my time reading this book I recall audibly agreeing to many of the statements said and residing with them as if the words were being spoken directly through me.
My father is black and my mother is white. I have lived as a biracial individual my entire life, and although I have been exposed to the black culture and experience, I had no clue as to what it must be like to be living and breathing in the black body.
That is until I read this book. I was given a peek into the black world in some of its most raw and analytical observations. This was a more detailed and polished collection of stories than what my own father was able to express, but all the same they came from a very similar experience; the truth about what it is like being a black man in this pressure filled world.
As I scrolled past the words on the page I thought back to my own fathers stories of times he was stopped by the police, and even going back further into his youth, to being called “nigger” by a boy in elementary school who believed that my dad was lesser than his (what he believed to be) superior self.
In some of the other, more positive parts of the book I thought back to the concerts I’d been taken to, celebrating black power and black love, all enriching me in the culture of my other half.
Each of these positive and negative experiences have informed me of some of the calmest and harshest connotations that come along with being black, each memory bringing me back to the very real perspective of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
I felt the greatest amount of emotion during Ta-Nehisi interview with the family of Prince Jones after his life had been taken by the police. I felt shameful for the policemen that were given the power to serve and protect but only chose to hurt. Prince was a bright, attractive young man with a contagious spirit and endless opportunities. But within mere seconds, he was stripped of his body, life, and future.
“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 quote is one of the lines that I audibly praised, but its truth saddens me because this is not the way our public is supposed to treat citizens, but it happens so often and so tragically that it is impossible not to find some amount of outrage both in myself and in my community.
In relating Between The World And Me to our anticipated study of peace and conflict, I’ve found that both of these elements reside in the book.
I say this because I have seen peace in the way that Ta-nehisi owns his black identity, I see peace in his love for the Mecca, and I see peace in the admiration and care he has for his family. However, I also see how he has been addressed conflict in his life. I see his conflict and frustration in the underlying racism and bigotry in this country, I see conflict in the police brutality, that claimed the life of someone he knew, and I see conflict in his relationship to the world and how that same world may treat his son.
One of the things I love about this book is that there is very little yin or yang. There is a beautifully cruel combination of good and bad, and he describes this mixture in such a real way that perfectly captures the black point of view.
After reading “Between The World And Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I have gained a greater view into the world of African-American life and deepened my perspective of the black experience. I also believe that this book is not only a letter to his son but a letter to the American public, male or female, black or white, young or old, this is a book that must be read by everyone.