How does one live in a country that was built on the false notion that you as a person are less than others? In a nation where the ruling powers have used the colour of your skin as an excuse to enslave, segregate, lock up, and murder? How does one move forward with hope and optimism in a world that so often places little value on you?
In Between the World and Me, writer and editor Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses these issues through a letter to his adolescent son. A son who is growing up in a world that claims to be progressive, that claims to be past racial issues and yet everyday bombards us with images of Eric Garners, Freddie Grays, Trayvon Martins, Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Michael Browns, and so many more.
From the streets of Baltimore in the 1980’s to Howard University in the 1990’s, Coates shares his story of growing up Black in America to help his son understand the world into which he was born. As a young boy he quickly learned the ways of the world outside his door, one where what you say or which street you live on can be a matter of life or death. As a young man at Howard University, he discovered a place populated by different faiths, cultures, beliefs, and experiences that was united in the same struggle he fought as a child.
Now, as a father, he is passing along the lessons he learned about the history of his nation, the falsity of race, and the current crisis faced by Black Americans, to help not only his son navigate this world but every young Black man and woman.
This is a powerful book. I’m not the intended the target for it but it says so much about a writer when his subject matter can transcend audiences and touch everyone who reads it. It’s not a book that is going to tell people “this is the way we can go forward, this is what you can do to make things better.” It is a book that will make you see that the values upon which America were built continue to harm and destroy a group of people. It takes you inside the experience of a group of people who are in a struggle to live within their world.
And it could be easy to say that this is just one person’s experience. Which it is and isn’t at the same time. Yes, this is Coates’ story but whether you grow up on the South Side of Chicago or in a gated community in Florida, the colour of your skin determines your experience in this world and that is something no one can escape.
It is often repeated that it is so difficult to believe that in 2015 we are still having conversations about race, about the plight of Black people in America. But why is it so difficult? In a country that was built up through slavery, that segregated and denied people their basic human rights for so many centuries, where Black people are disproportionately incarcerated, why are we shocked that after a few decades of “change,” we still need to talk about race?
A must-read, no matter who you are.