Since the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson in 2014, I have been actively working to listen and learn from Black activists and thought leaders. However, I didn’t do much reading beyond Twitter, The Root, and some articles the activists would post. While I feel like I’m in a much better position now, for these protests, to discuss with white Americans the reasons for the protests, I feel like I have so much to learn. I’m glad I went through learning from those activists first, because it was hard to learn to listen. I wanted to rage against what they were saying, because it didn’t apply to ME. I had to learn to listen, which is what really allowed me to listen to what Ta-Nehisi Coates said in this fantastic book.
Growing up in an absurdly white part of Western Pennsylvania, where there was one black family, one Indian family, and one Asian family, prevented me being aware of much of anything. Hell, I really did not understand why Rage Against the Machine said “Some of those that work forces are the ones that burns crosses” why there was so much anger against police.
During the Michael Brown protests I wrote that the police shouldn’t be militarized from more of an objective standpoint because it limited first amendment rights in general. That no American protester should ever be targeted the way they were targeted. This book, helped provide a lot of the context that I didn’t understand for why police would want to militarize. I didn’t understand it was to really control the Body of the Black person.
This book will make you cry. I had tears in my eyes throughout nearly the entire book. It’s a moving letter from father to son explaining the horrors he had experienced. Horrors that Coates had tried to shield his son from, but knew he could never and should never fully shield him from them all. There is just simply too much weight on the shoulders of Black Americans to behave a certain way to prevent White people from weaponizing their whiteness against the Black person.
Amy Cooper Weaponized her Whiteness against a Black birder in a horrific and absurd way. However, Coates explains, this event isn’t ahistorical, it is our national heritage. It is the cost of the “American Dream.” The Dream was build upon Black bodies. First as slaves and then as an underclass, an undercaste, to be separated into a red lined portion of the town. That should be destroyed if they accumulate too much wealth.
Coates has similar feelings as I do about a god and how that means life is even more precious. This life is the only one that we have. That we can and should do the most we can with this life. That this worldview makes the wanton destruction of Black bodies even more horrific, because there’s no afterlife where a lifelong struggle is rewarded. It makes enslaving an entire people for centuries even more horrific.
Coates rejects arguments such as black on black violence as a reminder that the white Dreamers used the state to segregate the Black community through both actions of the state and complicit realtors and other White community members.
This book, at the end, calls out that it’s not the Black person that can resolve the current crisis of their body’s safety. It’s the White Dreamer that must awaken from the dream. To realize this world isn’t for us either, that our bodies can be as easily destroyed as a Black body, if the state decides to do so. I believe this is true. This book has helped me make arguments to my white friends, to argue we need to understand the history of the formerly enslaved or the Black people negatively impacted by racists practices that sprang from enslaving Black people.
If you are White and interested in justice you must read this book. You will cry. You will begin to empathize with our Black citizens. It’s a first step, we need to push for change and justice.