This book is a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ son, Samori. The book starts off with “Son,” and then proceeds into 152 pages of a powerful reframing of the physical and mental. Here are some of the terms and ideas discussed throughout the book:
- The Body – Ta-Nehisi Coates’s body, black bodies
- This was actually one of the things that stuck out to me most in the book. His body takes the brunt of the racism. His body can be taken at any time. Slavery is about the body. His point is that it’s still about the black body. It put it in tangible form. It’s not some idea that people have. It’s physical.
- The Dream – a reference to the American Dream and how black bodies are viewed as expendable in pursuit of the dream
- People Who Believe They are White – this comes from a James Baldwin quote – “And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white.”
- The Mecca – for Ta-Nehisi Coates, this is Howard University, where Coates doesn’t have to live in fear
It was timely to read this book with the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men (a father and son) in Georgia while he was out on a run. Coates talks about a number of other black men who have recently been shot and what that does to his mind. It tells him that black bodies are expendable. He doesn’t say this is a new thing. He says this is built into the fabric of our society. It’s not going away. Coates says of another killing:
The killer was the direct expression of all his country’s beliefs.
To say this is tragic doesn’t come close. Coates talks about the freedom of white kids who have no idea black parents are telling their children to be “twice as good” so as not to get in any trouble. As a white man, I can’t even begin to imagine. Coates talked about the freedom of mind he felt on a trip to Paris. The freedom he had on the campus of Howard University. But those were rare glimpses. For me, it’s the other way around. I’ve rarely had glimpses of the fear he mentions being a constant companion.
This is really a must-read for white America. It’s powerful. We don’t get it. We can’t get it. If you think racism was just a problem before the Civil War or in the 1960s but not today, this book will challenge that view.
I’ll be thinking about this book for a while.