rob's recent hotel anecdote and several comments thereto reminded me of a post I wanted to write but never did. If you're unfamiliar with Ta-Nehisi Coates's writing, which often touches on race, I suggest you delve into his uniformly superb work. In particular, you should read Between the World and Me. Don't take my word for it. According to Toni Morrison, "This is required reading."
Coates wrote this as a letter to his son Samori in response to Samori's frustration after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other African-American men at the hands of white police officers. I won't try to distill the book down to a one sentence thesis because I'm not a good enough writer and because it wouldn't do the book justice. It's meant to be read and digested, then read again and again. You have the time to read it at least once--it's only 152 pages--and it will help you work through some of the points raised in rob's post and the comments. That said, the book makes clear that these types of deaths have been going on for generations. They're rising to prominence in white America's consciousness primarily because everyone over the age of 10 always carries a digital video camera with built-in live streaming capabilities. Everyone is suddenly a reporter.
I don't know how Coates packed so much into so few pages. I can't relate to everything for obvious reasons. But two things jumped out at me. First was his story about a college acquaintance named Prince Jones, which reminded me of my story about a high school acquaintance named Phil. Second was his discovery of the joys of travel and his simultaneous regret that he made this revelation well into adulthood, which reminded me of my own adult travel experiences. Reading both passages felt like I was having a conversation with the author, like he knew exactly how I felt and was writing sentences in response to my reactions to the preceding one. I was so moved that I considered writing him but didn't. What would I say? Or rather, how would I say it in the context of this incredibly personal, emotional and intimate piece of writing?
Like Coates I've tried to travel with my kids as much as possible, or at least more than my parents did with me. I like to listen to public/college radio when my kids are in the car. While driving from NJ to MA for last week's vacation, a Nina Simone song came on the radio and it blew me away. It's a cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" crossed with a mashup/poetry slam reading of David Nelson's "Today is a Killer." I was stunned that I never heard it before--I started listening to George Harrison in utero and I started listening to Nina Simone after hearing her music in a jazz class I took with rootsminer. What started out as a way to get three Area I credits out of the way turned into a lifelong love of a particular artist. Liberal arts education! Anyway, Coates wrote about Simone a couple times so in an effort to bring things full circle, I'm posting a video of Simone's extraordinary and deeply pessimistic song after encouraging you to read Coates's extraordinary and deeply pessimistic book.
I'll try to be lighter tomorrow.