Between The World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is written as a letter from a father to his son. This letter describes his life as a black child and spans to his life as a black man, black husband, black worker and black father. It describes how the word “black” shapes not only nations, but people and lives — human lives.
The novel describes the American Dream, fueled by white, suburban lifestyles. It presents the American Dream as those standing on top of ignorance and repressed memories of what the American Dream was truly founded on — the bodies of Native Americans, of slaves, of chains and whips and blood used to fertilize the lies they feed to one another each and every day.
This book not only illuminates the past, but it startlingly confronts the present, providing a visionary response to the future; it declares the weight, not of the black body, but the weight which resides upon the shoulders of that body.
Reading this evocative narrative as an upper-middle class white girl was a shock, due to the fact that I’ve been brought up by families of closeted white liberals who do nothing for those who have it worse — nothing other than complain about how it disadvantages themselves when others have less rights.
I have been brought up inherently racist; the privilege of my skin, my hair, my blue eyes, ground into my being, my shoulders free of the weight of the country in which I reside. I have been brought up hearing only how different “they” are from us — the skin deep colors bleeding into racial stereotypes that were the foundation of my childhood, the white-bred suburb, elementary school, swim team, family and friend group.
I was brought up being told not to see race, when all that I could see was my white life holding “them” at arms length. I was brought up knowing I was white; I was once offended by the word “gay,” by the word “black,” by any word that was not as I was. I had been taught to be afraid of the differences that I noticed and to treat the “different” people as less than my peers. I was taught pity (but never compassion) for the human lives that my country used to fuel the propaganda machine shoving lies down our throats. I had a life based on fear, as I was completely unaware.
Today I am an open, woke and loving lesbian with a diverse group of friends and a beautiful, melanin-full girlfriend, and my life has been so thoroughly enriched by the lives of these people through their culture and their words and the education that I have received about human nature. Between The World And Me was not only eye opening and emotional, but it was an explanation of a life that I will never in all my days live.
In a book describing so many important things, bringing such an earthquake into my quiet and ignorant white life, I chose quotes that not only sum up the theme of the book as a whole, but also the ones that made me think and process my own climate towards race.
This book illuminated for me what race is in comparison to racism, as it claimed that “race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”
This text was meant to teach the son given the letter how to grow into his black body and not let his skin suffocate him — to acknowledge his place in the world and look for new ways to understand the voices of his ancestors and how his voice is as human as he believes it to be.
The book was written to teach the father’s son how to know himself — how to know he is human like every other and to blossom through that despite the societal restrictions of his own humanity: “the question is not whether Lincoln truly meant ‘government of the people’ but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term ‘people’ to actually mean.”
How do you fight your whole life to somehow get others to realize that you are someone with life inside? How do you live with your life and value being determined by the hierarchy of someone who doesn’t look at you the same way as someone with a lighter hue?
These passages stand out amidst the talk of dreamers and machines, because they are real, they are human. Just as the oppressors and the oppressed. How can anyone define the humanity that they have had stripped from them, in inalienable right that is not only alien, but barely exists? These passages describe the life of the oppressor in regards to the oppressed, addressing the system of ritualistic racism and privilege while describing the opposite edge of the spectrum.
Between The World And Me is a light in the dark — the dark of a life filled with suffering bodies, or the dark of a life built on lies and the broken lives of humans of a different color. This book is not about the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit in which no hope resides, but about the system under which we all live painfully oblivious to the changes we could make everyday.
This book is for the select few who want to push. Those who want to push the limits of themselves, those who wish to push the limits of their society and those who wish to push away the mask of untruths in order to see the raw pain of humanity in all its disgusting and glorious detail. This is a book for those who reside in the gray, where the family of racism is dead, where we all belong in our own skin and where we all bear the weight of the country we can love with our whole human selves.