Ta-Nehisi Coates is a name that everyone should be familiar with. He is a major contributor for The Atlantic and his current work on the Black Panther comic books is absolutely amazing. His two books are absolute must-reads, his previous memoir The Beautiful Struggle (about growing up in West Baltimore) and our book for discussion today, Between the World and Me, a letter to his teenage son.
His description of histories and paths was so important. His blackness and experience was similar to, yet different than his own father’s, and he impresses upon his son that the teen’s experience will be different still, but understanding all that came before will help to light the new path that he will walk. So much of this book reminded me of the documentary 13th (on Netflix) – his son would need to always watch out for The Dream, the idea that there is one ideal, one myth, one danger; he would need to explore multiple questions and accept that there may be many answers or none yet at all.
It is a letter that drips with the need to belong: to a social group, to a dream, to a country, to a community, to a family, and the awful and beautiful things we are willing to do to ourselves and other people to emphasize and strengthen that belonging. His description of his self-realization of how he was capable of destroying the bodies of others after he had focused so long on his own body almost made me cry. When he used the words human spectrum I found words for something I had always tried to explain to myself, that as long as you are happy and not bringing harm to others, you should simply be allowed to be.
The overarching theme of this book is the idea of disembodiment and the different forms that it takes in the lives of black people. That the one common theme is that the black body is always available to be broken, and the constant slavery that exists is the idea that the shackles were never removed, that at any moment someone can decide to break a black body for any reason and there are rarely any consequences.
You need to read this book. Then make sure you own this book. Then buy extra copies and give them away and make people read them. Then make them watch 13th on Netflix. Because what even the well meaning white “allies” don’t understand is that this exists and every time anyone utters “not all white people” or “all lives matter” they are willfully ignoring and disrespecting a very real situation that has become embedded in our laws, in our behavior, in our courts, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, and in our minds. Unless you make every attempt to understand and recognize this reality that black people face every fucking day, you are complicit.
This is the perfect moment to read this book. Please go get it in whatever way is most accessible to you. It is a short read, but well worth your time.