Since the day I learned to read, I rarely go anywhere without a book. Growing up I was a bookworm but even though I devoured books for breakfast, there was almost no diversity in the books I read. I strictly read YA novels as a teen and if you look at my bookshelf back in India it’s probably the first thing you’ll notice. Like any responsible parent, my father tried to steer me to a road littered with endless choices. Offering me a selection of books ranging from classic literature to graphic novels and everything you can imagine in between.
My father has a library that will make any book lover green with envy. My biggest regret is not taking advantage of the diverse selection his library has to offer much sooner. I don’t know if it was my stubbornness or immaturity or maybe a combination of the two, but I was hell bent on not reading anything remotely informative or educational especially if my parents wanted me to. I’ve grown out of that phase and I’m more adventurous with my choices now. Don’t get me wrong, I still devour YA novels and all the chick lit I can get my hands on, I’m just learning to have more balanced reading habits.
Between The World and Me was exactly what I needed at this point in my life. In light of recent political events back home and more recently in the US, I have been trying to educate myself and become a more informed citizen. Coates was the gas that ignited the flame inside me. Coates’ writing is art. It’s beautiful but it reflects the anger that drives his passion. It is complex and thought provoking without being pretentious. It is unapologetic, raw and enlightening. The book is styled as a letter to his son and chronicles Coates’ thoughts, fears,anxieties, hopes, and dreams for his son and his future and how the world that Coates grew up in has shaped the lens through which he now sees the world. I think the fact that Coates didn’t write this with the intention of explaining the African-American struggle to non African-Americans. There is no sugar coating of facts or forgiving ancestors. He explains how America’s foundations were built on the backs of African oppression, that they system didn’t fail them, the system was designed with the intentions of helping one race succeed at the cost of others.
Between the World and Me is a classic. It inspired me in ways no other book has. Its enlightening and opens your eyes. I find myself recognizing my privilege in ways I had never considered; realizing how I was simply lucky to be born into a family where my struggle have been very minimal; realizing how grateful I should be for the opportunities I have had; realizing that my experiences, while opening my eyes and educating me are born from a certain privilege that others do not have. Coates has taught me to be more aware of my privilege but he also taught me that I can use this privilege to give my voice to those being ignored and going unheard. Without a doubt Between the World and Me has found itself a home at the number one spot in my heart.
Quotes to remember:
I grew up in a house drawn betwen love and fear. There was no room for softness. Bue this girl with the long dreads revealed something else- that love could be soft and understanding; that, soft or hard, love was an act of heroism.
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.
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 the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.
I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.
I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.
The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.
The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people” to actually mean.
And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.
Choosing just a few excerpts from this book is so hard. I really believe this should be required reading!