My advice for reading this novel: Be consumed. Read it all at once. Don’t let the world, your prejudices, other tasks get in the way – if only for the time you read the pages – of being wholly consumed by this subject, this letter, and the profound words of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Recently I saw a comment under a social media posting from a local news station that read: “Could you refrain from posting about war, death, and terror until after the holiday season? It would be nice to just enjoy positive stories this time of year.” The ability to just push aside the negativity of the world in honor of “the holiday season” is an interesting power, as well as a privilege. Interesting in the sense that there are people existing in the world who are so disconnected from what is happening outside of their Dream, outside of their protective bubble, that when they see pain and suffering an initial reaction is to put that pain and suffering at fault, make it responsible for discomfort and push it aside, because what good is acknowledgement during a time that should be happy if it threatens that happiness? The world doesn’t suddenly fall into peace because certain groups and certain individuals declare that the 25th of December is a time for enjoying family, opening presents, and being happy. This delusional thinking may seem harmless, or is well-intentioned, but that’s exactly the problem. The intention may be to prevent feelings of discomfort, to prevent a shiny, rose colored bubble from popping, but that shield is a dangerous one that our country has hidden behind throughout its history.
Growing up white in the whitest state, in the whitest region of the country, and not having nearly as many experience out of it as in it, I am just now furiously removing the layers of the blindfold that have shielded me from seeing the world for myself, and not how it’s been set up for me. No, I don’t know what it’s like to devote one-third of my brain to “simply” surviving each day¹ and struggling to do twice as much for half the result.² I’m privileged to not know what it’s like to live in a community where police commit crimes and are not justly tried or convicted, and where the victim is investigated more thoroughly than the suspect. But I do know that our country was built on invading, through pillaging, by slavery, and with fear that our American Dream would be attacked and upended – and I know how quickly we are to forget that things have not changed for many people. Bodies are still being used to preserve a Dream that prides itself on freedom and equality and fear.
This is not a manual for solving “the race problem” as that phrase is so [un]eloquently put. It’s more of a manual combined with identity exploration, for Coates’s son, who is growing up differently but still within the bondage of history. It is a search for a Dream outside of a ghetto and within a cul de sac, and a realization that the bondage still exists, no, is what upholds that suburban Dream – it’s inescapable for many and shrouded by many more. It’s a need for not living in fear, while being honest and realistic. It’s this and much more, and with my thoughts unraveling and the shine of my own Dream dulling, I can only conclude by saying this letter put me in conflict with my identity and in tears over the brutal honesty and truth. I wish the same upon all who read it – and read it you should.*
*I am feeling an inadequacy with my words. I have not been able to get all of my thoughts out – primarily because of coherence issues – and feel like I will be processing these thoughts on this book for a long time, too long probably.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015)
² Coates, 90-91.