Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Teen review: Adult nonfiction on race

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
152 pages
Adult memoir

Reviewed by Alexia, grade 12

“…But all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” (Coates, 7)
Between the World and Me is a memoir fashioned as a long letter written from father to son. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the harsh realities faced by black males in our American society – a society that dehumanizes and pillages black bodies as part of a centuries-long tradition and revolves around the dream of being “white” in the context of its history.*

This isn’t my book to rate or review. It isn’t my place to reiterate Coates’s experiences or the realities he uncovered from them, because I can never understand for myself what it means for the sanctity and safety of someone’s body to be wholly undermined due to the hue of his/her skin. But as someone who is on the benefits side of the culture of oppression whether I like it or not, it would be wrong for me to sit placidly in ignorance. Between the World and Me is an eye-opener on just how deep the problem of racism runs in our society. The writing is gut-wrenching but beautiful, direct yet poetic, uncomfortable for white audiences but necessary to educating them. I can’t speak for what this book means to black audiences, but Coates himself, when asked if he had an intended or imagined audience when writing about race, said this: “I think a lot about the private emotions of black people — what we feel and yet is rarely publicly expressed. I guess in that sense, the audience is black people.” (Here’s the link to the interview from which this quote was taken.)

I don’t think it’s my place to say who should read this book, or who is best fit to read it, because I’m not a part of Coates's intended audience in the first place. But I will say that it’s a heavy book, and one should be aware of that before reading it. Still, I think everyone should read it once they’re ready. This book is extremely important in furthering the discussion that America needs to have on race*. If you’re young and you read it, have your parents read the book too, and discuss it with them. No matter how old you are, share it with others, with as many you can. Toni Morrison said “This is required reading,” and seeing as she’s one of the most iconic black writers alive, her commendation holds great import.

* “Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism… inevitably follows from this inalterable condition…. But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.” (Coates, 7)

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