Bodies fall and questions keep rising from the splatter of blood, and gone is the sense of being, replaced by a narrative cobbled together from missing reports, incomplete accounts or total fabrications. Another day, another darkness.
Peeling back the surface tension then is a collective responsibility. It is knowledge that bridges the gap between the void and those with questions that need answers need also a way to understand their own path is what forms them as the individual. You can sit through all the classes you want, sponging them up and wringing them out at the end of the day, but that doesn’t create the character of anyone but another drone.
The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.
That drives the crux of Coates’ voice here. To be a part of the world you need to educate yourself beyond the syllabus that’s been washed and rewashed. It is a call to read more than you’re presented and to chase that thread, pulling it apart to see where it goes. Ignorance has no place in a mind in a body in a state that wants to keep you within bounds.
Between the World and Me is a letter from a father to his son. Imparting the ideals, fears and all concerns about what it means to think about surviving in a climate that has put targets on your back before you were ever ready to dodge the wind. A note of caution and skepticism, tainted everyday by split second decisions made by others.
There it is to question, there it is to keep scratching and face the bleakness of another morning wondering if last night was your last. What crushes the soul as much as anything is taking comfort and not being aware, or not wanting to be aware enough.
The spirit and soul are the body and brain, which are destructible—that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden.
Coates draws an elegant line on the conditions and inherent fragility of living as a black person in the United States. The prospect of always seeing your body, your mind, constantly fighting for itself to walk without the fear of being taken down is hard to understand from a perspective without. With the language and scant shots of optimism and balanced reality, that delivery comes through. The world, its view, the whole mess of what it means to live in a constant state of tension streams fully and without reserve.
Reviewed on Sunday, 28 August 2016