Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Between the World and Me

by Ta'Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau     2015
152 pages     Nonfiction

One of my daughter's good friends in high school was the lone black girl in their class. She was the daughter of professionals, and they lived a suburban life and attended our highly regarded high school. Obviously, her family had moved to our community for the same reasons we had--for the outstanding schools. After several years of friendship with her family, I felt brave enough to ask her mother why they had chosen to bring their black family to an all white community and school. She responded, "Because I know how to teach my children to live with prejudice. I don't know how to help them be successful in an all-black, underachieving environment." We were there for the same reason--to give our children every advantage we could.

Between the World and Me is a love letter from a father to his son, explaining what Ta-Nehisi Coates knows of the world and what his hopes, dreams, worries and fears are for his black son. He eloquently explains why it is difficult to be Black and why there are so many challenges to have a black body.

Much has been written about Between the World and Me by Coates, and as a White more-than-middle aged woman, there is little insight that I can add to what I believe to be a book of tremendous importance. Eminently readable and broadly poetic, the book is expressive of emotions that I will never feel--except to note that I can relate profoundly to the fierce love Coates' expresses for his son as he tries to tell him how to live in the world. This is what we all do--try to help our children negotiate the world.

I remember telling my children that although they were very attractive people, they could not expect their looks to get them through life. Looks might help them get a foot in the door of life, but it would take much more skill, intelligence, education, and drive to make their marks. Coates remarks that he knows that his son is intelligent, but that his job "in the little time we have left together, is to match that intelligence with wisdom." That is what we can offer our children--some wisdom.

The other insight that I related to extremely well was the idea of each person's uniqueness and the need for each of us to value that uniqueness. Over the weekend, we traveled to my hometown of Duluth Minnesota in below zero temperatures to attend a university production with my nephew in the lead role. We are so very proud of him. He is a singularly unique young man, and we drove 600 miles to celebrate that uniqueness. Ultimately, that is what Coates is pleading with his readers to do--to celebrate the uniqueness of each child, regardless of race, class, or intellectual ability. We must never diminish a child in any way or relegate them to the scrap heap of life. A body is much more than what we see. Each body is to be valued.

I was particularly impressed with the reviews of Between the World and Me in The New York Times and The New Yorker.. Of course, the book has won many awards, including The National Book Award. Additionally, it is my church's all-church read this spring. My book club will be discussing it on Thursday.

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