Over Christmas I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between The World and Me.” It was by far the most powerful book I read in 2016. The book is an 152 page letter to Coates’ son about American history, race, Coates’ own history, and what it means to grow up black in American. The first-person narrative makes it powerful and impossible to escape. “Between The World and Me” should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves educated in regards to our current cultural landscape.
Coates is such a great writer that it really does a disservice to him to quote small passages. So, I give you a couple of paragraphs that caused me to reflect:
“…my experience in this world has been that the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. And the word racist, to them, conjures, if not a tobacco-spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic – an orc, troll, or gorgon…Considering segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon concluded, ‘Strom is no racists.’ There are no racists in America, or at least none that the people who need to be white know personally. In the era of mass lynching, it was so difficult to find who, specifically, served as executioner that such deaths were often reported by the press as having happened ‘at the hands of persons unknown.’ In 1957, the white residents of Levitown, Pennsylvania, argued for their right to keep their town segregated. ‘As a moral, religious and law-abiding citizens,’ the group wrote, ‘we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.’ This was the attempt to commit a shameful act while escaping all sanction, and I raise it to show you that there was no golden era when evildoers did their business and loudly proclaimed it as such.
“‘We would prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that there aren’t any,’ writes Solzhenitsyn. ‘To do evil a human being must first believe that what he’s doing is good or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.’ This is the foundation of the [American] Dream – its adherents must not just believe in it but believe that it is just, believe that their possession of the Dream is the natural result of grit, honor, and good works.” (p. 97-98, emphasis mine)