Ta-Nehisi Coates unveils the unstinting, raw reality of what it means to be a black man in the United States of America.
By Ebony Stoglin
Formatted as a letter to his 14-year-old son Samori, this narrative accentuates recent killings of unarmed black men who died during encounters with the police.
The author touches on his rationalization that the creation of the term “race” is a divisive falsehood that demeans blacks, a continual reminder of the burden of history that blacks attempt to free themselves from. Using a profound combination of personal experiences, moments in history and an enormous amount of research, Coates reminisces on how he gained his “consciousness,” and endeavors to reveal this reality to his son through the narrative.
As a Baltimore native, Coates reminisces on a childhood pervaded with fear and paranoia. Not of gang violence or being robbed, for he knew the language of the streets, but of those who rigged the law. Those who conducted “friskings, detaining, beatings, and humiliations” were the individuals he feared the most, because they could “kill a man and walk free,” he writes.
The author makes a jarring statement, in the wake of recent events, that he “could see no difference” in police who died in 9/11 and police he had witness kill his college mate Prince Jones a year prior and many other counterparts: “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever; they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.” His conviction that “the police reflect America in all of its will and fear” is a transparent example of “transmuting fear into rage,” which becomes a resentful, hateful state of mind that the author doesn’t want his son to ever experience.
Coates does an exceptional job of granting readers insight to these harsh, but realistic and candid thoughts that may flood the minds of black men who witness or experience similar events. Although much of the book is focused on injustice, he acknowledges progress made, like witnessing the inauguration of the first black president, and black women embracing their “natural hair.”
He encourages his son that it’s essential to “remember the past in all its nuance, error, and humanity,” and with that knowledge comes power:
He writes to his son, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”