The Red Couch: Between the World and Me Introduction

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M_BOOKCLUB1

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 forgot.

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.

Between The World And Me FB chat

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 Nightstand at SheLoves Magazine

The Beautiful Struggle– Ta-Nehisi Coates

Another Round Episode 29: What’s On Your Reparations Tab? (with 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

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption– Bryan Stevenson (April 2015 Red Couch selection: introduction and discussion)

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism– Drew Hart

Letter from a Birmingham Jail– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

James Baldwin Tells Us All How to Cool It This Summer at Esquire

black-ish Season 2, Episode 16: Hope

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.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Cara Meredith
Cara is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She is chipping away at her first book when not searching for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), try to dance nightly and live life to the fullest with their two young sons.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

Latest posts by Cara Meredith (see all)

Cara Meredith
  • I may have slept through a more subtle message, but the overwhelming voice that I have heard throughout my life is summed up in the word “color blind.” The goal always seemed to be that we become homogenous — or pretend that we already were. I’m completely unequipped to understand the struggle of minorities in this country, but am reading and listening, working hard to “get it.” Thanks for suggesting “must read” books here, because the experience of reading in community is so helpful.

    • Kristy

      MIchele, I agree with you when you say the overwhelming message has been to just be color blind. How easy to forget the past when we can just say “color blind” and move on. As a white female, that’s what I have done most of my life. Reading Between the World and Me was like a bucket of cold water to the face, but in the best possible way. It was hard to read because of the truths inside that I had never bothered to see. Like you, I’m trying to understand. I also read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudine Rankine recently, and it spoke many of the same real, uncomfortable truths through poetry.

      • carameredith.com

        Kristy, I’m grateful for your thoughts. I think we have a long, long way to go in this country, and it begins with our own realizations. It’s a hard, cold bucket of water to the face read, like you said, but so very important. In this with you!

    • carameredith.com

      Michele, I think working to understand and “get” this new reality of seeing (and appreciating and celebrating!) color really is the first step. I too feel like I’m just stepping into the process of understanding and learning to ask more questions than pretend like I know the answers.

      • Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. I have understood my obtuseness is a generational thing (and geographical, I’m sure), but it helps me to know that you also see yourself as being on a learning curve. I’ve read some of your writing, so I know you’re ahead of me . . .
        Looking forward to the journey here — so important to read widely and outside my comfort zone.

        • carameredith.com

          And full disclosure, if it wasn’t evident in the above post: this book is out of my comfort zone, too! It was a hard read, even if it’s not the first book that’s opened my eyes to the struggles of the black community. As per the colorblind message, that’s what I too was taught – growing up in a white, suburban context – but it wasn’t until college that different professors began to open my eyes toward a new way of viewing the world. The rewriting process takes a long time, that’s for sure.

  • Joy McEwen

    I recently read this idea that “history is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.” I’ve been wrestling with that a lot lately. The danger with democracy is trusting the majority to do the right thing. It’s too easy for too many to forget, to re-frame, to justify, and yes, even to deny. But on the other hand, it means the narrative is not static. It’s never a final judgment. Public sentiment and public will can be changed. We can take back the story; to struggle to remember the past-truly, fully, deeply. There is hope here, but also the demand of vigilance- that if the agreed upon story is the correct one, we are it’s guardians, but also that if the agreed upon story is incorrect or incomplete, we most become the guarantors of the truth demanding to be told.

    • carameredith.com

      Joy, I think you’re completely right: we must become the guarantors of a new and revised truth. Leigh and I heard Jim Wallis speak a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t get this phrase out of my mind: We are not merely to become allies to the black community (or whomever it is), but we are to become accomplices. I want to be an accomplice in telling a new story, in rewriting truth.

  • Kelly Greer

    I wish so badly that I was ready to open up and listen more to the words that are used to express the black community’s sincere struggles in this world. The thing is, since Ferguson blew up in my face, I have been so traumatized that I cannot bear to hear any more! I hate that this is so. But I just cannot. Unless I too am able to express the many injustices that I have experienced as a white woman living in St. Louis, it is too much to take anymore in without getting some out! I think some who do not know me well when I engage in racial discussions perceive my responses as dismissal of the injustices experienced by the black community. When I say “me too,” it is an act of entering into the suffering. You don’t know the suffering another person has seen. Or the victories. I believe this is not a “we vs. them” issue. This is a good vs. evil issue. Many people of all backgrounds face injustices in the world’s system every single day. I wish I was ready to listen without fear and angst. Sadly, I need more time to heal the wound of Ferguson in my heart. But, I am glad to see others ready to engage. I pray the sharing is honest and open and runs two ways and that some healing can happen here. God bless you all in this endeavor.

    • Kelly, I agree racism is an issue of evil. I believe that if, as white people, we are not working working to dismantle racism from our communities and systems, we are complicit in that evil. That is why racism has continued to persist. It can be uncomfortable to listen to a Person of Color’s story but I believe it is that much more important for white people to listen and sit with that discomfort. The onus is on us. It doesn’t discount our own pain but we can’t elevate our hurt either. I don’t know what you’ve experienced in Ferguson but I hope you are partnering with those doing good work to bring about justice in the community, even through your pain. While I think TNC’s book is for everyone, actively working to end injustice is ultimately more important than reading a book.

      • carameredith.com

        I love being on this journey with you, friend.

      • Kelly Greer

        Yes Leigh, I regularly advocate for justice reform. I had testified before a juvenile justice task force at the Missouri State Capitol about the injustice our family experienced loosing a child to the system and the fallout on our family. I am an advocate for change here alongside non profits, governmental agencies etc. For me it was never about color but I have found myself advocating for change in a system where many of those affected are of color..Then when Ferguson exploded in my backyard, the race issue became part of my story. There is no escaping it. I regularly have opportunities to share our story and work alongside organizations that typically work to promote African American issues. I have been hesitant to jump in because I sometimes feel ill prepared to enter this arena. Not only ill prepared but not educated. And since Ferguson, maybe even too angry. I do not take it lightly that God has put me in this place and I want to do as he leads. It is just so much to take in and take on, it is overwhelming. Most importantly, I feel that this issue needs honest exchange both ways if we are to really break through barriers. I admire you all for taking that on.

    • carameredith.com

      Kelly, I also think it’s huge that you’re even acknowledging and being honest about where you are in the process. It sounds like you’re on the journey, as we all are.

  • I finished this book a couple days ago. It will continue to resonate with me for a long while. Hearing these voices may make us uncomfortable, but yes, we need to be listening. We’ve had closed ears for too long. If we think these issues don’t concern us, we’re wrong. Looking forward to the discussions to come!

    • carameredith.com

      “We’ve had closed ears for too long.” YES, Lisa, yes.

  • Thank you for this. I’ve been eyeing ”Between the World and Me”. Good on this lovely community for its willingness to talk about the complex, crucial issue that is racism.

    • carameredith.com

      Ganise, complex and crucial = my thoughts exactly!

  • sgibsonneve .

    It’s interesting for me because, as a Canadian, it’s easy to distance this as something that is “other.” I look at the police brutality situation in the U.S. and say, “Wow, that is so horrible. We would never let that happen here.” It’s so easy to be smug. Then, though, reading this post, it was impossible not to reflect on the situation with our Indigenous peoples here in Canada, which is no better and, in some ways, almost worse because it was inflicted almost entirely on helpless children. It’s easy to say that we didn’t know and that it was only a small group of people or that it was the government, not us, but truly, is that any different from the people in the 1930’s in Germany who said, “We had no idea.” We are not absolved of guilt, we need to make ourselves aware and to be watching and working with those who are struggling so that this doesn’t pass us by.
    I’ve read about a third of the book and so far, what I am overwhelmed by is the sense of fear. I often, from a distance, have thought that this was about anger and bitterness (which would be totally understandable) but I hadn’t really thought about the fear. The fear in the parent hitting his son with a belt, the fear of the swaggering teen walking down the street. Jesus said, over and over, “Do not be afraid.” I think, in many ways, this is the message we all need to take away. Fear is Satan’s greatest tool for turning us against each other and for justifying all of our worst inclinations. We need to create a world in which people don’t need to be afraid and that’s that’s a heavy responsibility.

  • Jessy Burk

    I’m so excited that you guys are reading this!!! I’ve been looking for a community to read this with. Yay!