Yesterday I started, and wound up finishing, a book by a fellow I had seen on “The Daily Show”. The name of the book is “Between The World And Me”, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
I will give you a head’s up, the book is not for everybody. First off, the book is written as a letter to his teenage son. Unlike most letters to our children, giving and asking for updates since our last conversation, this book is a soliloquy. Like a soliloquy in a play, the wording flows like a poem. While beautifully written, I can see where some people might not feel comfortable with the style. Even if you’re ok with the style of writing, there’s probably plenty in the message than will arouse a lot of folks.
Coates is writing a letter to his son to impress upon his son, that no matter how comfortable the son may feel in his world, that the son’s body is not his own. In the very first chapter, Coates states his premise that his son, a natural born American citizen, does not control the destiny of his own body. I admit, it takes a little while to come around to Coates point of view. Coates takes us through the horror of the black experience of being brought to America as slaves, and I get his point. The more disturbing point is that no matter what level of achievement a black person attains in America, his life can be snuffed out in an instant.
I was already implicitly aware of this reality. That is one of the reasons that I rant about “Toms” like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson. I acknowledge their accomplishments, but I marvel at their lack of clarity about the danger they could face in the right situation. Thomas and Carson lead very insulated lives, but if they were placed in the wrong situation in the right area, they would be treated like any other “second class citizen”. Thomas and Carson would not have control over their own bodies, solely because they’re black. As Coates points out, and as we see nearly everyday on TV, black lives don’t matter. Black lives particularly do not matter to folks that know they can “stand their ground” without fear of repercussions.
Coates does not go into his call for reparations in this book, but he has in others. I bring it up because some folks might already be “prejudiced” against reading Coates because of his stand on reparations. I think I’m ambivalent about reparations, but I know one old boy who is not.
I recall the time that I was talking to our HVAC guy, Andy, about this and that, and he brings up the topic of reparations. I think it was back when somebody was trying to push a bill through Congress. I expressed my ambivalence about it, whereupon Andy got right red in the face and declared he was “damn sure” for reparations.
His great great grandma had owned about a hundred slaves over in South Carolina at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Andy thought the Federal government owed his family reparations for the property that had been taken from them. I’m telling you, he was as serious as a heart attack, and I was at a loss for words. I was aware that all of the South’s “wealth” at the time of the Civil War was tied up in the slave market, but none of my kin have ever been that wealthy. There are no former slave owners in my family. Unfortunately, there are those who walk among us that feel a loss at not being able to benefit from owning other people.
So, now we circle back around to Coates’ letter to his son, and the message of his book. “No matter where life carries you, what heights you attain, it has been preordained that you do not own your body.”
Powerful stuff, give it a read.