So I got around to reading Between the World and Me, which is a short book that received an incredible amount of acclaim. I wasn't impressed.
I will say that Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good way with words and can craft some poetic sentences. But that "poetry" if you want to call it that, is hollow.
First and foremost, there is the ever present obsession with "bodies," particularly "black bodies" and particularly the violence that "those who believe they are white" or "dreamers" do to those poor "black bodies." The whole thing reeks of some sort of pseudo-intellectualism. At one point he writes that white society was saying "we were inferior and therefore our bodies were inferior." Yeah, that would quite obviously follow.
The book would have read exactly the same had it not been with this odd contrivance that borders on a fetishization. But that's sort of the problem the entire book has. For example, take this sentence,
"You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body."
I guess this is supposed to mean that violence is done to black bodies based using a scientific-sounding, but ultimately racist rationale. Or something.
But there in lies the biggest problem with this book. Yes, it's meant as a letter to his son, but the whole thing is an argument by assertion. Controversial police shootings, such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were simply shot in cold blood by white people and let off because the system of white supremacy hates black bodies or something.
Nevermind that George Zimmerman is Hispanic or that the evidence strongly points to Martin attacking Zimmerman first and the whole "hands up, don't shoot" narrative being fraudulent in the case of Brown, Coates asserts those shootings were unjustified. So they are.
The sames goes as Coates dives into Afrocentrism and once again simply asserts the ancient Egyptians were black, even though modern Egyptians aren't black and this "fact" lies somewhere between not settled and wrong.
This is all splitting hairs of course. Really, who cares? But that leads to the next problem. Us white people are "dreamers" or "those who believe they are white." After all, the Irish weren't considered white, right?
Yeah, no. Eight of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Irish. Yes, the Irish had a bad reputation during the 19th century, but that had to do with ethnic tensions, the fact they were Catholic and some of the rough and tumble ways they brought with them. And that reputation gradually diminished to the point of being all but forgotten.
Diminishing the importance of racial differences as has been done with ethnic differences doesn't seem to be Coates goal though. Indeed, at times this brief book reads like something close to a declaration of war. While he takes pride in all the accomplishments of black people, he refers to whites repeatedly as "those who think they are white." Again, this is supposed to mean something, I guess. Whites think they are descended from Europeans. So he gets a race to be proud of and identify with but whites, or "dreamers" must do what to assuage their inherited guilt? Become raceless? No real solution is given.
As others have said before, it's either identity politics for everyone or identity politics for no one. This philosophy of rationalized hypocrisy will just lead to more and more racial tension. Coates effectively blames the destitution of the black community entirely on whites and particularly on the suburbs which were "built on black bodies." There is little if any nuisance here. Black poverty, unemployment and black on black violence is white people's fault. Coates and his ilk might as well be rocket fuel for the Alt Right.
Yes, whites have done horrible things to blacks. But as Coates himself notes at the beginning, there's nothing unusual about the crimes of European ancestors when you look at what else has been done in the world. (Take for example, the crimes of the Ottoman Empire.) America calls itself "exceptional" however, so Coates says he will hold it to an exceptional level. And to what end? To vilify one group that can only cleanse its Original Sin by becoming raceless (or whatever implied solution he had in mind).
In the end, the book is little more than a pseudo-intellectual, bitter rant.
"Every day is a new life to the wise man."
The Righteous Mind
Star Slate Codex
Consulting by RPM