"This book is required reading."
Those are the words of Toni Morrison on Between the World and Me, and I'd have to agree with her. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the marginalization of the black community while reflecting on his journey to selfhood. This book is written as a letter to his teenage son and touches on some serious and relevant issues, such as police brutality, housing discrimination, and mass incarceration.
Throughout the book Ta-Nehisi uses two phrases repeatedly: "the Dream" and "the Black Body." The Dream is the wealth, comfort, security, and prosperity that white people have created, which is built on the control and domination of the Black Body. As an atheist, Ta-Nehisi focuses on the body intently because to him, his body and the bodies of his loved ones are all he has. I find this view important and refreshing because so often racial violence can be given to God to take care of as an excuse to stay silent and immobile. There is urgency from Ta-Nehisi because this is it; this body, this breath, this one life.
I devoured this book in less than 48 hours. The writing is visceral, beautiful, and heartbreaking. I've heard some people call this book "too angry," but of course those people were white. As a person with white skin, I feel indebted to Ta-Nehisi Coates for his story. The beauty and power of his writing was an experience I felt I did not deserve. This book is a thing of raw truth that cuts through the layers of falsities which encapsulate racism in America.
So, I'll say it again, this book is required reading.
“The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.”
“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.”
“The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”
“You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.”
“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said, 'You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.'"
“The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.”
“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world."
“And still 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. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.”
“Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live—and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else’s country, but in your own home."