Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“I thought of all the beautiful black people I’d seen at The Mecca, all their variation, all their hair, all their language, all their stories and geography, all their stunning humanity, and none of it could save them from the mark of plunder and the gravity of our particular world.”

p. 81

“You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

p. 113

Hello everyone! During this time of the pandemic and the #blacklivesmatter movement, I’ve been doing a lot more reading, especially books that discuss antiracism, white privilege, and black people. This book by Coates is beautifully written and I could not put it down (I literally read it in one sitting, it was THAT GOOD). It’s written from the author’s perspective as a letter to his son, which I found to be a refreshing take on a novel that highlighted the author’s feelings about growing up black and about his perceptions of white people. He used his feelings and experiences as teaching tools in this letter to his son to help his son navigate this especially challenging world for black people. I’ve included some of the quotes from the book that I connected with that I hope you will find some wisdom in too. This book is a must read for EVERYONE; I hope you consider picking up this novel on your own life adventure. 🙂 ❤

“Americans believe the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism–the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them–inevitably follows from the inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores and earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.” (p. 7)

“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible–this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.” (p. 7)

“As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tasting and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; […] and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me [Coates and son] the right to secure and govern our own bodies.” (p. 8)

“The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes wee made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” (p. 33)

“That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”–as much a series of actions, as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.” (p. 34)

“Black is beautiful– [the] black body is beautiful.” (p. 35)

“White America” is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it, “white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.” (p. 42)

“[L]ove could be soft and understanding; that, soft or hard, love was an act of heroism.” (p. 61)

“…that all are not equally robbed of their bodies, that the bodies of women are set out for pillage in ways I could never truly know.” (p. 65)

“Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains…” (p. 70)

“[It] struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered.” (p. 91)

“I had never seen so much life. And I had never imagined that such life could exist in so much variety. It was everyone’s particular Mecca, packed into one singular city.” (p. 93, speaking of NYC)

“…turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.” (p. 98)

“All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” (p. 103)

“I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you–but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable.” (p. 107)

“You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face the the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.” (p. 107)

“The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” (p. 108)

“But God had focused her anger away from revenge and toward redemption, she said. God had spoken to her and committed her to a new activism.” (p. 113, Prince Jones’s mother)

“And I saw that what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” (p. 120)

“In America, the injury is not in being born with darker skin, with fuller lips, with a broader nose, but in everything that happens after.” (p. 120)

“They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.” (p. 148)

“But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.” (p. 151)

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