Book Review by George Kennedy
A powerful and insightful read for the 21st century family interested in and concerned about the increasing racial polarization in America, too frequently characterized by escalating levels of confrontation between African-Americans and law enforcement. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a penetrating letter to his teenage son, takes us into the pathology of fear that continues to permeate Black life in the United States of America – a fear rooted in the knowledge that the fate of Black bodies and the bodies of Black family members are not under their own power. The author poignantly reminds us, especially Blacks, that should your body “fall victim to an assault and (you) lose your body, it somehow must be your fault.”
A Black body is not a temple created by our Creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The only rights we have as Black Americans are those whites in authority and law enforcement choose to respect in a given moment when your body is under assault.
Black fear, often disguised in many behavioral forms, is our watchword – the key to Black survival.
What matters, Coates notes, “is our infirmity before the criminal forces of the world…our condition..the systems that make your body breakable.” This historic and systemic assault on the Black body is “rooted in the assumed inhumanity of Black people.”
For this reader, “Between The World And Me” was a mesmerizing read because I am old enough to have lived most of my life’s journey and thus experienced much of the pathos that permeates many lives in America’s urban and rural Black communities. From direct experience, I can place in historical context the need to process the power of our vulnerability as a people and, in partial response, the strength we derive at an early age from Black love. On precisely this point, Coates writes, “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.”
I finished this letter to a son fully understanding there is no power in the belief the reapers (whites) will reap what they they have sown. Our lives are inextricably bound with theirs. There is only Black struggle; struggle for the memory of the generations of Blacks that birthed, nurtured, and guided us across the threshold into the precariousness of life that awaited us; struggle for those generations of forebears whose lives were sacrificed in the hope their progeny would live and prosper as they had not; and the struggle for the wisdom that may hopefully insulate us on occasion from those who see our bodies as possessions to be violated, maimed, incarcerated, murdered, or praised when we suit their purpose.
This is a must read.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. He has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story “The Case for Reparations.” He lives in New York with his wife and son.