“Between the World and Me” (2015) is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 152-page letter to his 15-year-old son. It talks about his life, about the meaning of being Black – and White – in the US and passes on some fatherly wisdom. Toni Morrison says it is “required reading.”
As a boy, Coates remembers his mother
“clutching my small hand tightly as we crossed the street.”
He never fully understood that till someone he knew at Howard University, Prince Jones, was murdered by the police:
“She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for the destruction…”
“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have and you come to us endangered.”
He visits the mother of Prince Jones, and of Jordan Davis. Utterly heartbreaking.
His parents’s desperate love passed on their fear, a fear he had to face without religion, a fear confirmed by the violence of the West Baltimore streets where he grew up.
On television he saw the dispatches from another world, the land of the Dream where boys his age only feared poison oak.
The Dream was why he had to live in fear:
“In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
The Dream was built in part on slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, ghettos and mass incarceration. Police brutality was the expressed democratic will of the Dreamers.
None of this was a secret, yet:
“there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much.”
Dreamers have great powers of forgetting and are long practised in looking away, of not waking up from the Dream.
“It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.”
He tells his son not to waste time on the Dreamers trying to wake them up:
“the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away, in prisons and ghettos.”
He urges his son to struggle, for wisdom, for the memory of his ancestors, for the freedom of Black people:
“History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory, but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.”
At Howard University, where he knew Prince Jones, he saw Black people from all over the country and all over the world come together in one place. He calls it The Mecca. And there he saw and understood that, despite what the Dreamers want you to believe, Black people have created their own world that is beautiful and precious.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Toni Morrison
- Jordan Davis
- James Baldwin
- Apple-pie America
- withdrawal into one’s community as a reaction to White racism: