There are certain books I don’t always want to read, but I find that I need to read.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is one of them.
I don’t want to read about my privilege as a white person, but I need to read about the privilege I was born into, a privilege based solely on the color of my skin.
I don’t want to read about continued injustice toward the black community, but I need to open my eyes to the problem I’ve been able to faithfully ignore for a good portion of my life.
And I don’t want to read about the problems my mixed race sons will someday face, simply because their skin is a darker color than some of their peers. I don’t want to think about what wearing a hoodie or walking down a dark street at night might mean to them, and I certainly don’t want to even begin to think about statistics of death and imprisonment that continue to claim the lives of too many black men.
I don’t want to think about any of these things, but I can’t avoid these thoughts any longer. I can’t continue to believe that racial justice, reconciliation and shalom isn’t my problem because I’m not a person of color.
“It is so easy to look away,” writes Coates, “to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names.” (p. 8)
Because as I feel like I’ve been learning lately, ” … injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
So if injustice still exists–which it most definitely does–then we must begin to enter into the conversation if we haven’t already. We must begin to read and ask questions and listen, really listen, if we’re to see change happen in our communities, our countries and beyond.
The book is written as a letter to Coates’ son: he attempts to answer some of the biggest questions he’s faced as a black man growing up and discovering self in the U.S., a country still fraught with racism. His words are then a combination of his own stories, a retelling of history and a call to move forward—and they are applicable to us, no matter where in the world we reside, and no matter the color of our skin, and no matter whether or not we even believe issues of racial justice have anything to do with us.
It’s a book that will have meaning for you, even if each one of us walk away with a different understanding. It might mean solidarity for you and it might mean a call to change for me. It might mean discomfort, and it might mean awakening, and it might mean anger.
But it still begs to be read.
Because, as he writes to his son, the atrocities of the past are something we must never forget: “Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains–whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.” (p. 70)
I feel like I was taught to forget. Growing up in a suburban, mostly white environment in America, my peers and I learned about the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery. We read books from the Harlem Renaissance period, and we studied Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and other names of the Civil Rights Movement for a couple of weeks during Black History Month.
And then we moved on.
We claimed that the hardships that happened to the African-American community in the past were just that: the past. They belonged to our ancestors, but they didn’t belong to us. And hadn’t we already apologized for the sins of our past?
The problem is that we white people have forgotten the struggles of both our history and today. As Coates reminds his son, “You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error and humanity.” (p. 70)
So, what is it for you?
What in your country’s history were you taught to forget? What, in all its pain, might need to be remembered so healing and justice and reconciliation might happen?
As we step into a month of reading and discussing Between the World and Me, I challenge each one of us to enter into remembering.
What does remembering and acknowledging the Struggle That Still Is look like for you as an individual and in your community?
In my end of the world, it’s not an understatement to say that the U.S. has done a grave disservice to its black brothers and sisters. I dream of seeing the hateful symbols of the Confederacy erased from the present. I dream of justice found for the current 1-in-3 rate of imprisonment for black men in my country. I dream of the government publicly apologizing for the atrocities of the past, instituting memorials and museums dedicated to the 400-year struggle of African-Americans.
So, what is it for you, in your corner of the world?
I think we can begin to dream together and I think we can begin to be changed together.
Even if, and especially if, the reading is hard for us to swallow, we can still be changed.
This month we are joining forces with Forward Book Club (founded by Deidra Riggs) culminating in a live Facebook discussion on Monday, March 28 at 6 pm PT/8 pm CT/9 pm ET. You can read Deidra’s introductory post here. Join the Red Couch Facebook group to discuss the book throughout the month.
Our May book is Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth Through Journal Writing by Luci Shaw.
The Beautiful Struggle– Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Case For Reparations– Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness– Michelle Alexander
Jesus and the Disinherited– Howard Thurman
Citizen: An American Lyric– Claudine Rankin
Letter from a Birmingham Jail– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Resilient World We’re Building Now, On Being with Krista Tippett podcast
The Problem We All Live With (Parts One and Two), This American Life podcast episode
The Art and Discipline of Nonviolence, On Being with Krista Tippett podcast
*Recommended by Leigh Kramer, Deidra Riggs, Cara Meredith, Kelley Nikondeha, and Annie Rim
Are you reading Between The World And Me with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.