Spiegel & Grau
Ta-Nehisi Coates has already proven himself to be an extraordinary writer but the publication of his latest memoir, Between The World and Me, is rightfully receiving plenty of notice. It’s a powerful piece of work, framed as a letter from Coates to his son it’s all at once a tone-poem ringing the sombre bell of a race-blaming reality in America and a visceral piece of polemic. If at times Coates comes close to overstating the case/blame, or leaning entirely on the dramatic, elegiac reading (and to my ears and eyes – with the luxury of distance and safety that my geographic and biographical distance from the subject allows – it seems measured, fair, just; the right argument to make, the correct stance to have to take) then that’s all for the sake of extending himself full into the piece, placing himself so far inside the argument so as to be noticed – it’s never exaggeration, it’s not about distortion, nor is it aiming to be any definitive piece. It is just another attempt at a very serious conversation-piece, it should be something that continues the conversation around race. That it just might be something that only gets close to starting it is one of the truly
grim reminders of how a book like this could always and forever be called timely but will also always have its work cut out for it.
Between The World and Me is also the work of Coates evoking James Baldwin. Here the structure, tone and feel are a conscious nod to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
As with the Baldwin work, Coates has here delivered something epic and weighty despite its trim size. It’s an essay-as-meditation, something to read and re-read; of course that means it’s already been pulled apart and picked at and when you place the personal in the realm of the universal – Coates is speaking on behalf of his race, with a colour-blindness that has been drilled into him – that’s to be expected.
I’ve read rebuttals to this book which miss the point entirely and suggest that white victims of black crime would be just to speak on behalf of their race; never seeing that the white voice has been so strong as to dominate not only that narrative but the entire narrative.
Perhaps that’s why Coates pared this down to all that needed to exist. A racehorse of a book, muscular and filled with controlled, planned, shaped invective. If a black person, as he says, need only work twice as hard to get ahead than this book must, on behalf, do the same. So it’s been built to last; to zip around the track and get noticed, to be ready to run again and when necessary. To do the work.
It’s the book that should be issued to any and all in America. It’s a book that should be read – widely – outside of that country. And if white people can’t take a few of the slaps on the chin here, deserved, necessary – than the stereotype of fear and controlling others through and because of that fear will, sadly, continue to be the dominant voice. And, well, vice. Horrific to think. But a likely outcome.
There inside this stirring, poetic account is a loving portrait of fatherhood too – of the fears he has for his son. For the future. And the pride he has too. The hope that he could have a fighting chance. And one day, maybe, a chance without so much the fight.