I recently had the pleasure of reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, Between the World and Me. Part memoir part historical non-fiction, Coates writes a letter to his teenaged son Samori, welcoming him to a world which actively disregards his beautiful, black body – solely for the sake of its beautiful blackness.
Whether reminiscing over his years at The Mecca or recalling dangerous encounters in convenience store parking lots, the author invited this reader into a world that I wish was not reality. The systems of injustice were clearly and faithfully illustrated, and all readers – including the “Dreamers” who “believe that they are white” – were beckoned to face the hard reality of this deeply racist country.
The book was delightfully challenging for me as a white reader. There were moments in the story that I felt transported back to the Civil Rights Movement – I pictured police dogs, fire hoses, riot gear. Then Coates would gently remind me that this was a year ago in Ferguson, or perhaps a dozen other occasions since then. Race riots are not just a subject learnt about in a classroom. They are happening today. The Civil Rights Movement is not just a subject learnt about in a classroom. It is happening today.
“The fact of history is that black people have not – probably no people ever have – liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts.”
I echo other reviewers who have called Between the World and Me “required reading” for every American. This book is an emotional and sobering look at the racism in (and of) America today. It has opened my eyes to confess my own racism, and has challenged me to work toward dismantling the system. Furthermore it is a reminder that, as Coates tells his son, we Dreamers cannot be stopped by others.
“I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves.”