Date Completed: 3/27/2017
Coates is poetic in this letter to his son. He speaks of writing bad poetry as a young person, but now I would say his prose has reached a joyfully poetic rhythm. I picked this audiobook to listen to on my drive from Asheville to St. Louis as I moved out of the first house I ever rented just a few days ago. I had checked it out once before as an ebook from the library, but ran out of time before I was able to get more than a few pages in. What a perfectly thought-provoking read for the drive! I loved hearing Coates read it aloud to me, loved hearing his cadence and inflection as he bares this letter to his son for the world to read.
“The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
I’m so glad he wrote this short non-fiction book, this long letter to his son, and I’m glad he published his letter that was political and yet so personal. I related to so many statements he provided, found connection to his political ideologies and all the things he struggles with. And at the same time, I recognized that I have shared very little of his experience. My identities differ so greatly from his own, but he wrote this story not to separate us, but to bring us back together and encourage all of us to find new ways to connect with each other. So much of identity is about these boundaries we create to separate who we are from who other people are, to make sure that we know what we like and are able to express to each other what we like. But so much of identity is also rooted in old concepts that I no longer choose for myself, but that I am born into, like race. Our ancestors created this big conceptual ideas that we don’t even quite know where the lines are drawn anymore. I find myself assuming and assuming incorrectly.
“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. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”
This book brought me back into all my social work education, back into thinking about social construction and back into remembering to ask people even the most basic of questions, to not assume that I am on the same page as someone else until we have agreed upon even the most basic of definitions. Between the World and Me brought me back to remembering how different and yet how similar everyone’s experiences are.
I’m sure I’m not getting this review “right”, since everyone has different opinions on how each of us should think about race, but the important part is, this book got me thinking about it. Even if you dislike it, I hope this book gets you thinking about how Americans, (white, black, latino, etc.) think about, treat, and handle, race. I hope this book sparks more discussions to come as I know it already has.