This book. Oh, this book. This book brought me back to school. It schooled me. Toni Morrison called it “required reading,” and I could not agree more. There are parts of me that can’t think of this book without being infuriated and sad for the American condition.
Coates is brilliant. He’s a thinker, and a writer, and he demonstrates the duality of America and the inaccessibility of the American “Dream” in a beautifully poignant way. This book is marvelously uncomfortable. And everyone should read it.
Do you think there is a race problem in America? Do you think there is not a race problem in America? Do you think you understand race? Do you think you don’t understand race? Do you think race is even a “thing”? Have you ever thought or felt that someone else is in control of your body, regardless of how innocent you are of any wrong-doing? If any one of these describes you, even in the slightest, no matter what color or race you believe yourself to be, you should read this book. Coates captures perfectly the current state of America, of the dual histories of America, of the dual present of America. He articulates everything I ever wanted to say about race in America, but didn’t know how to exactly put the words together. Like a dream you just-sort-of remember, but cannot articulate completely.
Granted, his view is one among many, but his experiences are real and valid. If you don’t understand the outrage around the end of several young, black men’s lives recently, then you should read this book. If you think you understand the outrage, you should still read this book.
Coates is essentially writing a letter to his fifteen year old son, describing what it was like for Coates himself to grow up as a black man in America, and what he hopes it is and isn’t and knows it is and isn’t, for his son. Sounds a bit back and forth? Yes. That is part of the point.
This is a book I’ll read over and over. I’ll pick up and flip to a section and read, to understand (or try to understand) something so completely outside of myself and my own experiences. This book opened my eyes to the present in the same way W.E.B DuBois’ “The Soul of Black Folks” opened my eyes to the past. Whoever is reading this – your existence and perspective is not a complete story of a country, culture, society or nation. Step outside yourself. Open your mind. Read this book.