Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)


Once in a while, you run into a book you know you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. A book which speaks to you, which feels more like a conversation than a storytelling, which makes you feel like you’ve known someone through its pages more intimately than you could have through any conversation. Only in this case, that someone was just another black living in America. Only, this is the first time I have heard the story from the other side – the story I could only watch on news from halfway across the world.

I believe that this book needs to be read. Because we are so used to single sources of information, articles squeezed into the familiar pattern, audience oriented news pieces, that we forget to think, to feel, to understand. We overlook. We forget. We pretend ignorance. We instinctively distance ourselves from topics too difficult to talk about because we believe we are too caught up chasing our own dreams.

Out of all this book leaves me with, there is a strong respect for Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it is not just because he confronts the daily dread of being black in America and scribbles it down for other people to understand, but because of the way he does it, his reasoning, the pain, helplessness, rage, frustration resonating in every sentence which tries to answer the one question that any bystander or victim of such pointless violence is left reeling in – why – a question which the assailant cannot understand.

Coates’ account is at once fascinating, revolting and heartbreaking – fascinating because of his analysis, his compelling theory of what drives this blind violence, this feigned ignorance and abject disparity; revolting because it reveals to you all the forms that violence can take and heartbreaking because of the way Coates puts it into words and because of the unfairness of it all.

There is so much that this book has conveyed to me which I had no way of knowing from elsewhere, that I am scared of translating it into my own words lest I should alter the meaning in any way. Because these thoughts are Coates’ own and he must be the one to tell you about them. Here is a bit of an excerpt.

Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. “Slavery” is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved. She can hope for more. She can imagine some future for her grandchildren. But when she dies, the world – which is really the only world she can ever know – ends. For this woman, enslavement is not a parable. It is damnation. It is the never-ending night. And the length of that night is most of our history. Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains – whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.

I couldn’t help thinking about Macklemore’s song White Privilege II at more than one point. I remember reading somewhere that it is a small book, easy to read in a few sittings, but for me, it is one of the heaviest I have ever read.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Appreciation Post

Yeah that’s right. Appreciation. Of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Like a big giant ‘Thank You‘ in as many words as possible.

But let’s start with this little conversation I have been subjected to more times than I care to count.

Me(randomly): I love Macklemore and Ryan!

Other Person: But why? OR Ohh. The guy who sang Thrift Shop, right? OR Umm… who?

Me(to all of them): ……..You didn’t just say that.

So let me (try and) address this. Wait a minute as I put Wings on my speaker. Why do I like them so much? How do I even answer that? It’s like asking ‘Why do you like the Harry Potter books?’ I can still try and explain that by saying ‘It’s my childhood’, so it doesn’t tell why I like it, but that it’s been close to me for a long time. That may give you some idea. A better comparison is ‘Why do you like Murakami?’ Try and answer that! It’s because it is Murakami. See? That is why I like them. Because, Murakami.

Okay. This demands to be clarified first – when I say Macklemore’s and Ryan’s songs, I do not mean And we danced and Thrift Shop. They are cool. And hip. And fun. Yes. But they are not all of their songs. And I certainly wouldn’t call them their best. They’re like ‘Tales of Beedle the Bard’ to the entire Harry Potter series. You haven’t even started the damn series yet and you’re already drawing conclusions? What is wrong with you? How can you find Thrift Shop on the internet without having Same Love pop out somewhere else and clicking on it? How do you go about this world justifying your Youtube song searching skills? Look around child, look around in this beautiful world for the gems, the ones that sparkle in the dark, the hidden ones.

And, believe me, there are gems – Otherside, Same LoveArrowsGrowing up – and they are beautiful; because there is one on drugs (but you’d say that every one sings about drugs these days, to which I’d say not like they do and not with the same message as theirs), and there’s one on love (and I can literally speak all the lyrics to it in one of my public speaking assignments with homosexuality as the topic because there is no better piece which presents the case for it in so heartbreaking a manner; like there is even need for being told that it is alright and definitely not a crime), and there’s one about ‘My old man he kicked me out when I told him that I live this way’ (because he sure as hell will) and there’s one about, well, growing up, but more specifically, about what Macklemore wants to tell his child as she grows up and really? Do you want me to say anything more? I just love them. And there’s still Kevin. And Downtown is so fun (it made me laugh at more than one scene like if I only had one helmet I would give it to you? That’s so cute). Because fuck. It is a moped song. Who makes a moped song? And I haven’t even talked about My oh My yet. Do you get the idea now? Here’s an excerpt from Arrows:

He doesn’t sleep
So in truth he never wakes up
Another day rushing to his death
Out of breath on the treadmill of the famous
He makes mistakes tells stories to his paintbrush
And when the world finally sees his art
He wishes that he never would have made it
Just escape, just escape ricochets
And eclipses faith living in a city
With a grey umbrella over your shoulders
And you’re becoming suffocated by the weight
Can’t hit those breaks
This is what you wanted, huh
But you got it all in vain cause you forgot who you are
Right as the world learned your name it goes…

Their music jumbles all these waves into a cat’s cradle in your hands telling you about all the cultures they’ve lived in and all you need to do is pull at one tiny string and it all falls aside to show just how much they actually care about them. And they are just so damn cute showing it and putting it out there, putting themselves out there and just talking about whatever the hell they want to be talking about, so much that I want to have an Irish Celebration with that one tune playing all the time in the background.

Most people get put off by the rapping. But for me, I see no other way that they can be them without Macklemore singing and Ryan working his magic like the most evil addictive witch I’ve ever read about. How do you squeeze in lyrics like they do or the cadences that Macklemore has without it being a rap? I’m not a huge fan of the genre myself, but I still love them, because there are things worth compromising your tastes for, and when you do, they reward you in strands of words and music wrapped wondrously around topics that sure as hell aren’t.

So you tell me. How can you not love them? Please do. Because I just cannot get it.