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Between The World And Me

March 31, 2016

BetweenWorldMeI’m not writing a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me because, well, because after Toni Morrison writes:

I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between The World And Me, like Coates’s journey is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”

there’s nothing much left to say.  (Not that many people haven’t tried, and done a pretty good job already.) If Toni Morrison’s words don’t pique your interest to read Between The World And Me, nothing from this little blog will.

By a fortunate coincidence*, I read Between The World And Me on Good Friday, the most atheistic day in the Christian calendar. Some may dispute that claim.  Without getting into a deep theological argument, I merely mean it’s the day on which God seems most absent—Jesus is tortured and killed; his followers scatter and (mostly) abandon him; and just before dying Jesus cries out (Mark 15:34) “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”).

Just as Baldwin grew up immersed in the blues, jazz and the Pentecostal church in the tumult of Harlem during the Great Migration, Coates grew up a generation later in an atheistic and nationalist household, immersed in hip-hop in post-industrial Baltimore. (Coates’ dense, layered, crackling writing comes straight out of his love for comics and his frustrated desires to be a poet and rapper.)

After reading Between The World And Me, the conversation I’d love (and would pay good money) to see is between Coates and the Rev. James Cone, initiator of Black liberation theology. Not because I’d like to see each trying to “convert” the other.  (I’m fairly certain neither would have much interest in doing that.) But because Cone’s theology of Black liberation and Coates’ anti-theology of Black struggle both begin, or so it seems to me, with an irreducible commitment to the reality—and therefore the dignity and sacredness—of the black body.  Grasping onto that one truth, and following wherever it leads, makes Between The World And Me an unforgettably powerful book.

So, whoever puts together public conversations like that, get on it.  (Please.) I only have one request: don’t make it a neatly edited and confined 18 minute TED talk or hour long “Inside The Actors Studio”-type show.  Make it an epic mini-series (6 hour-long episodes, at least). We can’t have too many good conversations.

*I think it was Thomas Merton who wrote, “there are no coincidences, only connections“.

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