I came to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates unaware of its context. I had seen the book listed on a number of 2015 Best Books lists and decided to read it. To me, a second generation American, the book was enlightening. Granted this is one African-American’s man’s perspective of the problems faced by his people, but I think Coates is not alone in his experiences.
During the course of my lifetime, I have never openly discussed the issue of race with close friends of mine who were/are African-American of varied generations. Perhaps it is a discussion we never had because as much as I might want to understand, I admit our worlds are different in many ways. The discussion of race has been the metaphorical elephant in the room. As a writer, I, like the author, observe the world in which I live seeking understanding of my place in it. I think I learned a great deal from this book.
Coates is an amazing, talented writer with the courage to bare his soul and I admire that.
My people came from Italy and where never part of the culture of slavery. For this, I am fortunate, because in all honesty, I was raised in a family where I was never aware of any prejudices my ancestors or parents may have held. After reading this book, I spoke with my son about it; suggested that he read it. I was very taken by what the author wrote about his trips to France and the feeling he had while there which was vastly different from his feelings in America. My son was in France in December and he remarked to me that he didn’t feel fearful of African people he encountered overseas. To me this was very telling of American culture. There is a fear on both sides of the fence.
I have experienced fear driving accidentally through poor neighborhoods in Chicago. I am ashamed to admit I have crossed lonely streets when approached by an African-American male. This is my truth. I feel afraid in certain situations. Who do I blame? The media? The predominantly white suburban town I was raised in? The private high school I attended in the city where I first encountered African-American students? I don’t want to blame anyone. The issue is one I have thought often of. I don’t have the answer. What I do know and believe, is that human beings need to learn to live together in peace. I come away from this book with a deeper understanding of very real problems which exist in a country in which I live. I am grateful to have read this book because it helped me gain insight and a new perspective as seen through the eyes of the author.