What I learned reading: Between the World and Me
“ I was made for the library, not the classroom..”
During Coates’ grade school years, he mentions how he felt school hindered his exploration for knowledge. In-depth questioning or challenging the teachings of the textbook were met with resistance and sometimes discipline. However, as he grew and made his way to the university, he found the library. The library was without restriction, while school was like a mental cage. Once he found the library, he would check out books, three at a time, to immerse himself in “truth.” He dreamed he would find all the answers to his questions but was shockingly met with quite the opposite. He was in awe of how the greats he idealized were in confliction with one another. From DuBois to Garvey, from Douglas’ thoughts of integration to Delany’s escape to nationalism. It was all so fascinating, while at the same time leaving him more at a lost. Making him feel even more bound by the classroom. For even at the Mecca, Howard University, he would only still be in a school. Freedom was exploration. Freedom was being able to debate the greats, find meaning, and dig up ancestry of a lost culture to know the truth. He could not find this in the classroom. As Coates would explain, “I too felt bound by my ignorance, by the questions that I had not yet understood to be more than just means, by my lack of understanding, and by Howard Itself. It was still a school, after all.”. The library gave him the means to free himself. It was as a lighthouse guiding ships so as the library steered him toward the ability to take full possession of his body.
The Truth of the Civil War is Lost
Do you find it interesting, that even today, we still debate what was the real reason(s) for this bloody war? For much of what we learned about the Civil War was taught in school. It’s no wonder the facts are so obscure. As popular history would tell it, each side fought for a noble cause. Who better could have led the revolt than Robert E. Lee? Also, who better to be at his right hand than James Longstreet. While some place these “war heroes” on high pedestals and allow their essence to live on as statues around the United States, isn’t it interesting that we not only celebrate their actions by doing this after their loss to the Union but also in the light of knowing why they were truly battling. The truth of the war has continued to be masked by alternative facts: the South, freedom from the oppressive North and the right to succeed. The North, to preserve the Union and free the slaves. While it is true that the South wanted to succeed, the reason for the succession was to continue to protect slavery.
Moreover, while we do know slaves were freed after the loss of the Confederacy, the Constitution wasn’t amended until after the war to free the slaves. Coates remembers, on his visit to Petersburg, on how there was much fascination with the strategic genius of the Union and Confederate offense, but little to tell of the reason for the death toll. Never, while growing up have we been taught about the black heroes of the Civil War. Heroes such as William H. Carney, Aaron Anderson, and James D. Gardner go unmentioned. William H. Carney was the first African American medal of honor recipient. The Navy sailor, Aaron Anderson, another Medal of Honor recipient for gallantry actions while clearing Mattox Creek. For those who still believe slavery wasn’t a large factor for the Civil War need only look to the Confederate Constitution to understand how prevalent and precise slavery was written into its agenda.
The Deep Despair Between the African American Community and the Police
As I continued to read Between the World and Me, one of the main antagonists I began to equivocate from the text are the police. You read about the various casualties from the fight against police brutality and “unlawful” killing of black bodies in America. While the author doesn’t go as far as to become cynical of the role of police in American, he does dive into various situations in which oversight and justice, as perceived in the African American community, was not handed out fairly and left black people to feel they don’t receive the same protections as other ethnicities. From the killing of Michael Brown to Trayvon Martin, to seemingly the focal point of this story, Prince Jones. As the author details, Prince Jones was a fellow Howard University student he knew. He had also come from a background that was not that of the street but quite the opposite. He was a well-educated man from Texas and attended an excellent school while there. The tragedy of Prince Jones was that he was killed by a policeman who said it was in self-defense. On this unfortunate date, the policeman stated that Prince Jones tried to run him over in his Jeep. This story, along with many others, detail the issues the African American community have had with the police in America. But this isn’t a recent occurrence. Ever since the days of slavery on into segregations has the African American community been fearful of the allegiance of the police department.
The Constant Struggle of Control over your “BODY”
Coates’ letter to his son reaches into the mind to pull you deep into the psyche of the relationship of the African American and the world around him. This very topic is woven throughout this book to take you into the various layers of struggle, inequality, and fear within the black body. This isn’t a new mentality that has just permeated its way into a culture these past few years but, in actuality, has been there since their arrival on this continent over 200 years ago. Even now, as an adult, Coates sees how with each disciplinary action his parents would cast on him was for the fear that their son could lose his body. In his father’s famous words, “Either I can beat him, or the police”. Coates emphasizes this even more so by explaining that with each daily interaction in the streets, the black body is liable to be lost due to the wrong affiliation, race, or class. Even recently we have been witnessed to this by the stories on television of precious black body being lost to prison, black on black violence, and even worst, the repeated killings of unarmed black bodies murdered by police. He highlights the on-going struggle that he and other inner-city kids contend with by navigating intricacies of gang affiliation and the ease at which a boy on the block can take your body. This knowledge is organic to the streets. The kind of experience that can only be honed through continuous interactions or visual cues. The magnitude of this mental weight is increased in the schools as Coates explained. African Americans have to have a constant contention with this mindset by being given the ultimatum of succeeding in school or being cast back to those very streets that can easily take your body. As you continue your way through Coates’ letter, you visualize the inescapable nature and powerlessness that African Americans have over their body as he continues his revival of Prince Jones.
We are all destined to return to the earth, and this is a fact of life that we and yet to defeat. However, for the African American community, Coates explains this in a far more fearful way. Our life or, the “body,” as the author describes it, is a fragile thing. Every day blacks struggle for control of their body while living in a world, in which, African Americans, on a day to day basis, struggle with power and inequality takes a mental toll. As a child, our parents were fearful of our body. It could be lost in the streets of Baltimore by another body just as afraid as the other or, even worst, it can be lost to the very people who are here to protect and serve. It’s a frightening thought to think that at any given moment you can lose your life by gangs, thugs, or even a stray bullet by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.