Posts filed under ‘February reads 2018’

The World that We have Created – “The Hate U Give” and “Between the World and Me”

I listened to both of these books back to back on a drive from Ohio to Missouri and then from Missouri to Ohio. There is a time when reading becomes more than an exercise in relaxation. Where you run smack into a book, or here two books, that resonant as strongly as a punch in the stomach and you continue with the book because you know there is something important in that feeling that is needed and even necessary to be a fully engaged member of our country, our community, our families, our today.

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas is the story of Starr Carter, who lives in the ghetto where her family is trying to stay engaged with their African American community.  But Starr has to balance the life of being a black girl in a black community and also being a black girl in the private white school that her parents have her attending.   It is a careful balancing act and Starr often finds her self split between the two worlds where on one side her failure to adequately create a tough exterior can make her vulnerable and the other where failure to properly fit the stereotype of being the appropriate level of black in a white world can make her vulnerable.  One evening she finds herself riding in a car with her childhood friend, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a police officer.  What ensues is what so often, too often, happens.  Khalil is pulled from the car and as the officer is walking back to his cruiser Khalil bends down to make sure Starr is okay.  And he is shot not once, not twice, but three times by the officer.  We know this story.  The cop blames Khalil, society questions who this kid is that was obviously shot for a reason, and Starr becomes the witness whose only power is in her voice and the truth she can tell.

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Neishi Coates is framed as a long letter to his son who at the time of the writing is a fifteen year old black boy.  It is a letter about the black body and how we have stripped, used it, beaten it, and forgotten it all to continue in our quest to believe our American selves to be righteous and exceptional. While all at the same time clinging strongly to our whiteness and pretending that our privilege is earned and deserved.   It speaks to our inability to see what we have created honestly and with the proper accountability. Because once we do, our world, as the white dreamers of our own construct will come crashing down around us and we will not recognize ourselves any longer.  Because how can we be defined if not by our own lies and creations of reality? And our expectations, or requirements, of those who do not fit our narrative and speak truth – truth of history, truth of how we have gained, truth of how we continue to thrive while others do not – are woven so tightly that they kill and strangle those who do not conform. And even conformity is not enough. We will still segregate our schools by a classist based suburban drawing of districts, turn a blind eye to the enormous number of black men incarcerated, and watch as grand jury after grand jury does not hold the police officers who kill black men accountable to the same laws that apply so heavy-handedly to those they have killed.

“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.” – Ta-Neishi Coates

Coates writing is beautiful, harrowing and the best examination of our truth within the confines of race that we have created for America that I have ever read.  I cannot explain how important this piece was for me and I am still mulling it over.

Both of these authors created a space that left me bereft and with a feeling that I could not name for several hours. And then I recognized it and knew I felt shame. It is uncomfortable to be shamed. It makes us defensive, with the quiet, gentle chant of “not me, I am not racist.” But shame comes out of guilt and complicity.  As I too have bought into the dream of the stories we tell ourselves about our America.  I too forget what my whiteness has afforded me. I too forget the stories of those black bodies that we have broken.  Each and every one of them had a mother, a first step, a scary dream that woke them up at night. Each and every one had their favorite shoes or ice cream flavor or song. Each one lived and there is a time where, just like the white children we lose and cannot imagine how it happened, we should be just as shocked and enraged by the black bodies that we break and use and then refuse to become accountable to our actions but call names of drug dealer, welfare queen, disrespectful thug.

I find myself at the end of all of this at a loss for next steps.  I wish I could wrap this post up with a list of to dos that would make me feel better. But that is really not the point.  I, in my white suburban world and privilege, am not the point.  And for once that is just going to have to be okay.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” – Angie Thomas

February 25, 2018 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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