Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.
–Ta-Nehisi Coates - Between the world and me - c.2015
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a name that has floated around me for a while now. Often in discussions on Metafilter about racism and America and what it is to be black, or what it is to think yourself white in the US. But I’ve never really read his work before, so this year’s Diversiverse [ref]What is Diversiverse? Well it is a reading event organised by Aarti of BookLust and it is “Two weeks of gloriously diverse reading suggestions for you and yours, all so that we can work to make our world a more understanding, empathetic and open-minded place to live.” read more Diveriverse reviews here[/ref] seemed the perfect place to start. And Between the world and me just came out this year to huge amounts of praise, so I ordered it.
It is a heart-rending book.
Told, in letter form, to Coates’ teenage son, it is how Coates grew up in America. It is how racism has impacted his life in so many ways. It is how racism is so embedded in American life that to pursue the “American Dream” is to condone, encourage, and collaborate with racism. It is a personal narrative and a sociological text. It is so worth reading. I quoted liberally from it on tumblr, my only problem was picking what to quote. I could have quoted the entire book [ref]this quote about slavery being one person’s life not a lesson for others in particular is so important. Along side Mad Max’s “We are not things” slogan should be added “We are not here to help you learn”[/ref]. And some passages I just couldn’t stop reading in order to quote. Really, I’m going to repeat myself, you should read this book.
Of course not being American there is a certain amount of distance between the book and me. Also, it is a letter to a young male black teenager. I am non of those things. I am not the intended audience. It still speaks to me, so loudly.
And I cannot help but think of how Irish society is also a racist one. Okay, we don’t have a huge non-Irish population, and we never enslaved entire races, but look at the Traveller population in Ireland, how is that not racism in action? And yet people will argue about personal responsibility and if they just behaved like settled people they’d be fine. Ignoring completely the fact that non of us live in a vacuum. Personal responsibility is important, but if society is biased against you then, in the grand scheme of things, you have very little choice in life.
But I’m not going to this post about me. That isn’t what this book is about. This book is about African-Americans in the United States of America. And it is such a huge book that I really don’t understand how Coates fitted it all into 152 pages. And it means that I will certainly be reading his Black Panther when that gets released.
If you get the chance to pick up this book, please do so and read it. If you don’t get the change, then make the chance.