Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. We all remember what we were doing when we found out that planes had been flown into the WTC and the pentagon. I was getting ready for a day of college classes and it was my roommate’s twentieth birthday. Fifteen years later I have a career, and family and a lovely home and I have the time and resources to cheerily blog about my hobbies. As I am writing this in my own writing space in my home I am watching dawn come over the world by the glow of a candle in a beautiful cut glass candleholder my father bought me from Tiffanys when I was a teenager. I continue to clutch my white privilege in my tiny white hands.
I could have posted this review with some of the dreadful police shootings of minorities this year, back when the issues addressed in this book were right front and center of the national eye, but I absolutely think they still apply when considering these attacks and the country where we continue to live. It is not just white and black relations, it is all race relations.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
When I packed off to my small, predominantly white middle/upper middle class female public college, on Daddy’s bill no less, it seemed like the first task of my liberal arts education core was to demonstrate to me just how white privileged I am. Sociology, third world studies for a start, and then continuing education in Psychology and serving diverse populations ever since. When I am doing an assessment on a family I have to be sure to ask what they believe, what makes a good day, what makes them who they are. I have to start with what makes them who they are. And I have to remember myself all the advantages in my own life due to the luck of where and to whom I was born.
This book is letter that he writes to his fifteen year old son about the realities of the world that they are living in as African Americans, as seen through the eyes of his own story. It is presented in a way that makes you want to listen, not in a way that feels heavy handed or preachy, just matter of fact: the lack of meaning you assign to school when you are struggling to survive, parents who make lamentable and damaging choices over the oppressive fear that they will lose their children if they do not, the lack of recognition that there is a world beyond the anxiety and sadness of his place of origin, the slums of Baltimore.
Before I read this book, when I was circling it, I listened to a New Yorker podcast where they interview Coates. He does not mind stirring the pot with his views. He does not mind landing a well educated and articulate opinion even if it make us ‘who think themselves white’, which is how he refers to the privileged classes, stumble and stutter over their responses to him. And we need him. We need this book.
We don’t want to believe that there are dark sides to this world that still exist and that race divisions are alive and well and our fragile national ‘dream’ stands on the backs of invisible forces that we try to pretend don’t really exist still. He gives evidence of where there is still an unequal treatment and investigation when it is an issue of a white man against a man of color. Black lives do matter and we have to say it because they for so long didn’t and continue to still not sometimes.
Aside from the message thick in these 155 pages, the writing is artistry. Coates is in his heart a journalist. He has a strong message that people will not like and he is clear, convincing, open to discussing his own prejudices and what he has learned along the way. It is powerful and convincing without being redundant. He is very careful in his choices of words to depict his most central ideas: i.e., the ‘body’, the ‘dream’. It is educative and eye opening, even for someone like me who in my professional and personal life consistently encounter issues endemic to race and privilege. I believe that this book won the National Book Award this year not only because of the message but the masterful delivery.
So this goes out to all those who lost their lives and the brave in the 9/11 attacks. You were victims of a world that we are still working on changing.
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