Monday, June 5, 2017

Between the World and Me: Soft or hard, love was an act of heroism

It's been a while since I read this so I know my memories aren't as sharp and my thoughts aren't going to be as coherent as if I had just reviewed this right away, so apologies in advance that whatever I'm about to say is totally not going to live up to what this book deserves.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been one of those books that had been on my periphery since it came out. It's won awards and Toni Morrison said it's required reading and it's usually a good idea to listen to her. Lately there'd been a copy sitting on my co-worker's desk. And since I've been working on expanding my reading horizons and meeting my resolution goals*, I asked him if I could borrow it. Of course I asked him JUST has he had lent it to someone else, but one of my other co-workers had a copy (see, it's everywhere) and she lent it to me. And here we are.

For those who don't know, the book is a letter from Coates to his son in the wake of the rash of murders of black boys at the hands of the police. The book is part autobiographical, telling the story of his difficult childhood in a world that forced you to be tough to survive. He discusses the legacy, the heritage of racism that pervades the country. How the destruction can be swift (Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin) or it could be a death by a thousand cuts as need to always be on guard takes its toll on a person.

He talks about a friend of his, Prince Jones, who was killed by an undercover police officer, who was not charged for the crime, a narrative that is all-too-familiar. And how Jones's murder was just one more case, the type of thing that keeps black parents up at night worried about their children and wondering if there is anything that can be done to keep them safe.
[My mother] knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human, but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of "race," imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgement of invisible gods. The earthquake cannot be subpoenaed. The typhoon will not bend under indictment. They sent the killer of Prince Jones back to his work, because he was not a killer at all. He was a force of nature, helpless agent of our world's physical laws. 
The book is not particularly hopeful, but it doesn't advocate giving up.

I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. 

It's not an easy read by any stretch, but it is an important one. And one I'm happy to have read.

Gif rating:
*Read more books by POC authors, non-US authors, translations, and/or books published before 2000. Oddly enough it's that last goal that has been the hardest to meet, but also the one I put the least effort into.

Title quote from page 61

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegal & Grau. 2015.