This month, I’ve been slowly reading the journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me, a collection of letters he’s written to his young son to prepare him to be a part of a world where white people dominate and black people have historically and through this day been discriminated against. It’s not a long book at all, but it’s one of those books that you have to digest a little bit at a time because its sentiments are very painful and raw. It’s taken me some time to fully take in what Coates is expressing. It’s a bit jarring to think that we live in a world where the color of our skin really matters so much many decades after events such as the abolishment of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and even having a half-black president of the U.S.
I’m disgusted, but not surprised, to see the negative reviews of white readers who have read Coates’s book on Amazon, stating that they felt that Coates was attacking them for being born white with inherent privilege, that they should feel guilty for being white and never knowing what it’s like to be discriminated based on skin color. It’s one thing to be aware of one’s privilege; it’s another thing to altogether act as though it does not exist and to be defensive about it. It’s as though they are blind to the pain of people of color solely because of their own privilege, or they choose not to see it. The inability to see what causes pain, even when it’s right in front of our eyes, is obviously a very human reaction, a sort of defense mechanism to protect oneself. But being defensive, however human that reaction is, fails to serve anyone well or to help our country or world progress. We need more empathy, a stronger and greater desire to understand the experiences we personally have not experienced ourselves, but experiences we are cognizant exist and are the everyday reality for others who look different from us, who lead completely different lives from us, who see the world through a different lens because their world, frankly, is not the same as ours, even though we may ignorantly believe we all live in the same reality.
This is one of those books that I think everyone should read, but I know not everyone will.