I am feeling readerly lazy but I have been wanting to read this for a while and so I begin it today. I anticipate that it will be challenging and that I’ll have to read it at the table with paper and pen, and not on the couch with pillow and cat. But Toni Morrison says (right on the cover) that it is required reading. So be it.
What follow are some notes I took while reading, not a review.
America’s heresies – torture, theft, enslavement. The failure of democracy is the way we define who gets to be a “person” in government for & by the people, and what happens to those who are pushed outside that definition.
Race stems from racism.
Being “white” is a false construct created to give legitimacy to hierarchy.
Our national self identity and mythology rest on exceptionalism, nobility – and yet it is based on slavery and subjugation so the basis is false.
Coates asks: How do I live free in this black body? A letter from father to son – How to be a black man in America at a time when black men and women can be killed by police over so little and in which police are being acquitted of these killings. As parents, we want to tell our kids it will be all right; we want to keep them safe, we want to be able to teach them the rules for good living in society. But in a world in which otherwise decent people do not even believe that black citizens are in danger, parents are afraid.
Tells of growing up in Baltimore, fear, everyone having lost someone to jail or drugs or violence.
“The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions and every incorrect answer risks a beat down, a shooting, or a pregnancy.” (p.22)
Talks of survival, keeping the body safe, knowing what blocks to avoid and who would back you in a fight consuming one-third of his brain, and school never rewarding his curiosity, only his compliance.
Even with parents involved with the black panthers, educated and working for a major university, he had these experiences.
He talks about being shown non-violent protest (history of civil rights movement in America) and how it didn’t seem right when, every day, his body, his person, faced violence and he needed to become skilled at facing that in order to live.
Distilling the essence of parenting: “My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” (p.29)
“Sometimes [white power] is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it,”white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.” (p.42)
My people were not white in my grandparents’ generation. They were vermin in Europe and an unwanted burden coming to America. In my parents’ generation we became white but poor. Acceptable in the Bronx but the air force men in South Carolina still demanded to see my father’s horns. We’re white now, but along with the privilege comes an invisibility, which means that otherwise kind people can say the rudest, most ignorant things and not know that they are hurtful (to me) (unless I choose to tell them).
“It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own special Dream but would break all the dreams . . .” (p.52)
“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” (p.103)
“And I saw that what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could actually do.” (p.120)