Reading while traveling has always been special to me. While I’m learning about other cultures, books help me see how much I have to learn about my own home. While I was in Sarajevo and Budapest, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a tough and necessary read, especially for Americans who aren’t black. While I will never truly understand what it means to be black in America, I do want to understand as much and as best I can. This book forced me to wake up.
I live just north of Howard University, where Coates went to school and where his father worked for many years. After reading this book, I see Howard in a new light. That is sacred ground for its students because for many, their time there is the beginning of them feeling fully accepted and respected by those around them.
Coates talks about the constant pursuit by black Americans to work twice as hard to get half as far as whites in America. He talks about The Dream and The Dreamers, and how neither are fully accessible, much less possible, for many black people in America. He talks about the constant message we send to black youth—when dealing with storied institutions here, keep your head down, your mouth shut, and your eyes and ears open for danger. This book, and its truths, broke my heart
I will fully admit that I cried through much of the book, out of sadness, embarrassment, and anger. 250 years on from the end of the Civil War and still, it rages on in the streets all over this country. I had hoped the book would wrap up with ideas of how to solve the struggle. It didn’t. And maybe that’s the point. We can’t erase history. We can only learn from it and use it as context to frame the situation currently at-hand. Coates wrote this book as a guide to taking the first step on the journey, not a guide to get to some pre-determined destination.
With this book, I have more awareness and understanding of the anger and fear felt by the black community, especially in light of the year we’ve had. And that’s a start.