With the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m trying to learn more about the black experience of living in this country. A friend of mine sent me this list of things we can do to educate ourselves and begin to repair broken systems known for black oppression. There’s a lot we can do, big and little things, and it can be easy to feel paralyzed into never starting.
For me, reading is a good jumping off place into further action. I’d never heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates and, when I looked him up, like so many things when you’re exclusively at home with kids, wondered how I missed him.
His book Between the World and Me is the author’s informative letter to his adolescent son in which he gives us a glimpse of his world as a black man having grown up in Baltimore. He writes in detail about his – really, black society’s – experience with accepted, and encouraged, violence from a young age. Our nation’s system of racism, he writes, is put in place to be opportunistic and exploitive.
He goes on to say that black boys are taught from an early age that they are disposable. They store reminders of the everpresent hierarchy in their bodies — from their loving parents who prefer their own brutal punishment over those dealt by police to our culture’s ranking of skin color to racist government policies that pit one group against another.
Once he leaves his house, he writes, he plays the part to avoid trouble. Be on the defense, eyes that way, hands here — and still the steely look from the boy on the corner reminds him that vigilance is in vain. His life can be taken at a whim, in a second.
His writing is objective, a poetic telling of his story. It’s poignant and powerful in its non-persuasion. It’s an understatement to say that there’s no need to exaggerate your story when you live as a black man in America.
From Coates: “What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the questions of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.”
More from Ta-Nehisi Coates here
The Black Panther Party turned this man into an activist
I’m excited to read this book about the influence of protests and generational activism
Essays on black women
Podcast and book by this activist
A look at the broken systems feeding American racism