It's Not Over: A Dad's-Eye View
There has been a beautiful, hot buzz around Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book ‘Between the World and Me.’ You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone read it or engage in a conversation without someone asking why you haven’t read it. Frankly, we needed this. And we need more of this. TYPICAL wanted to encourage readers and conversationalists to keep the buzz going and in order to do that, we will share three pieces with you from three different readers and their three very different perspectives. If you have not read it, it is not too late and if you have, talk about it. This subject matter is hard, uncomfortable, and disagreeable. But so is growing up in a black body. The conversation is as fragile as the skin. Please handle with care.
“As I read the words of a fellow dad having been written so eloquently to his son, I could relate intimately.”
I typically don’t venture out of my comfort zone much when it comes to reading. Most of my time is spent reading theological works such as commentaries, journals, articles, blogs, etc. So I didn’t really know what to expect when, on my friend Tyler’s recommendation, I stopped by our local Barnes & Noble to pick up Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Other than seeing his name a few times on my Twitter timeline, I had no idea who he was.
It was a relatively chill night at the James residence, so as soon as I got home I sat down on the sofa and began to read… and read… and read. I couldn’t put it down. I read throughout the evening into the early hours of the next day. While I read, I was taken through a gamut of emotions that ranged from smiling and laughing out loud to tears of sadness. I don’t think I have ever been engaged more by an author (remember, I don’t venture out much), and it was refreshing. Ta-Nehisi’s transparency and conversational tone was like a vortex that pulled me into his world to see things through his eyes.
It was not only his style that intrigued me, it was also his experience. I, too, am a black man living in America. I have two sons who have the same brown skin that I do. One of them is 19 years old and he is on the brink of building his own life and legacy. The other is eight. The younger one still enjoys lots of hugs and tells me he loves me multiple times a day. I have genuine concerns for both of them. Over the past two years I have found myself coming home and hugging my little brown boy just a little bit tighter. So as I read the words of a fellow dad having been written so eloquently to his son, I could relate intimately. I must admit that I share his fears.
How do you prepare a young man to succeed in a system that seems to be fundamentally opposed to him?”
Honestly, it is because of the shared experience of fathering young black men, that this book resonated with me the most. Every good father wants the best for his children, but what do you do when you know that they are growing up in a world that is comprehensively broken? How do you prepare a young man to succeed in a system that seems to be fundamentally opposed to him? It’s futile to try to insulate our children from the world, however tempting that may be. In the end, you know that you should prepare them the best that you can. I wish it were not so, but I feel like the preparation for my sons would look a lot different if we were a white family.
That’s a hard statement to make and I realize that it is potentially controversial but if you take a look at our history it will ring true. That’s one of the things that he does in this book. From a historical standpoint, Coates did a masterful job of revealing the corrupt underbelly of the American Dream. Its was quite sobering to read as he made the case that this country was built on the scarred backs of African slaves. His concerns for the wellbeing of his son were not unsubstantiated fears, but were well founded in the historical narrative of black people in America. It seems that Coates’ chief concern was that the personhood of his son would be destroyed at the hands of a nation that has yet to affirm the personhood of all its citizens.
This is not a book that seeks to bash our country. However, it does force you to take another look at our history, a long unfiltered sober look. The fight for the personhood of black people in this country has been a long arduous battle and it is far from over.
“I realize that it is hard to mourn with and share in the pain of others when they have long refused to do the same with you.”
My heart broke and I cried as I read his account of Prince Jones. He was a young black man who was tragically killed at the hands of a police officer. His recollection of that tragedy brought back memories of my childhood in Louisiana, when we would hear stories of the mysterious deaths of black men. I was challenged as he described his reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He spoke of his calloused response to the events of that day. Being a United States Marine who served abroad in the “War on Terror,” I was stunned initially. That feeling subsided as I read the history of African slaves being auctioned off and unceremoniously buried on that very island. I began to understand his callousness even though I don’t agree with it. I realize that it is hard to mourn with and share in the pain of others when they have long refused to do the same with you.
This work doesn’t attempt to leave you on some proverbial high note. Even though I wanted to fly away, his narrative worked as an anchor keeping my feet on the ground and face to face with the issues at hand. He didn’t let me off the hook and I’m grateful for that. The chances of me meeting with Mr. Coates are slim to none. If I ever happen to cross paths with him, I’d shake his hand, look him in the eyes, and say thank you. I’d thank him for his transparency. I’d thank him for bringing new ideas into my purview and challenging me to dig deeper. I’d thank him for inspiring hope in me because our story is still being written. It’s not over.
Earon James is the lead pastor at Relevant Life Church in Pace, Florida. Earon and his wife Carolyn have five wonderful children.
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated. Spiegel & Grau. $24.