This is a review of the award-winning book, "Between the World and me," by Te-Nehisi Coates, with the author's interpretation interspersed into the review.
Mr. Te-Nehisi Coates has penned a serious letter to his 15-year old son, Samori. In fact, it is an extended existential "coming of age poem," a cri de coeur, as it were: a plaintive heartfelt lament and plea from a father's heart to his son's -- to understand correctly the meaning of violence in America, and to understand how the nature of social policies, racial violence and hatred in America have been combined together to construct the alternative diminished universe that he and other blacks now co-inhabit. Thus, this letter, in the form of a book, is a lot more than just the normal cross-generational handoff from father to son during the son's own manhood development project.
It begins by telling Samori about the fears that shape the two primary kinds of violence and self-destructiveness that drive the American racist social system. Mr. Coates tells his son that all American fears, no matter how they may be framed and rationalized, derive from primitive fears about race, a socially constructed false concept, around which the black male body plays a central role.
Thus to his son he says: Samori you are to know that, although the inner city streets are shaped by its own peculiar codes of violence, there is yet another higher code of violence that is much more controlling over your body, and much more insidious, one that can cost you your life on a whim: certain death at any moment. And on one will be held responsible: It will be called "justified homicide"
It is this structural violence, that since 1619 has been built into the walls of the American social order. This violence is "state-sanctioned" and under the complete control of those who believe themselves to be white. It is a kind of violence especially reserved for American police to use to "snuff out" black bodies and lives at will and on a whim -- just like the unending gallery of young black men who recently have been murdered in an unending procession in your own generation, beginning with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and having no end currently in sight.
It is this latter form of the violence that is so carefully woven into the walls of America's racist social order that you must fear and guard against even more so than the violence induced by the codes of the streets.
It is this latter kind of violence that, since America's inception, has been directed only to the mission of snuffing out bodies of black people, and especially the bodies of young black men like yourself.
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It is this latter violence, that lies coiled like a cobra in America's bosom that I cannot protect you from. What you must learn my son, while there is still time, is that this latter kind of violence, carried out routinely by inner city American police, and by racist people who consider themselves to be white, is as American as Apple pie, motherhood and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Exhibits numbers one through nine, are the recent massacre of nine praying churchgoers at Mother Emanuel Baptist Church in South Carolina. But more than just the massacre of nine black people itself, there is something else even more important that you must learn from that dastardly racist drama. It is a lesson you must learn about all violence in America carried out by those who consider themselves to be white:
You must remember that the tableau played out down there in South Carolina, that pageantry of violence, unique only to America, was an orgy orchestrated after the fact to be quickly forgotten and to remain unregistered as an act committed by the white tribe against the black one. This, despicable after the fact coverup, in full view of the entire world, done with the full complicity of the weak and powerless, including a weak president who had the power (but elected not to use it or his own agency on behalf of his own black tribe), sent a single recurring message to black people: If you are black, you cannot be protected against white tribal hatred because it operates out in the open and with impunity.
In this instance, instead of calling the perpetrator a savage, like they did recently when a black cop in San Diego went nuts and was accused of shooting another cop, Mr. Obama chose to use the church's pulpit to sing Amazing Grace, all the better to rally the better angels of our black natures, rather than use his bully pulpit to bring moral pressure on those bent on using racial hatred and division to stop black progress. This cowardice on Mr. Obama's part will staint his legacy forever.
By failing to bring the issue of white racism and white racial violence up in this situation, the effect of his electing not to call out this dastardly crime for what it was, just another instance of white tribal violence against blacks, was to further mask the fact that this world-class crime grew out of the overflowing reservoir of pure white racial hatred directed at black Americans.
For four centuries now, this tableau of "white-on-black violence" has been the only signature of American society that endures unchanged and undiminished.
But even worse, and this is something you must never forget, was the scary unnatural outpouring of forgiveness by the "so-called Christian" families of the black victims.
There is only one message intended for you to take away from this orgy of violence by a single hate-driven white gunman -- shamefully followed by the prostrate bowed heads of praying black Christians, forgiving him even before the bodies of their loved ones were cold, and it is this:
When violence is committed against your black body, your job, as far as American white society is concerned is not to retaliate or seek revenge like normal people do, but it is to follow your white biblical teachings and first turn the other cheek; then sing and pray like our Uncle Tom Mulatto president did, and then forgive the white perpetrators. Once that is done, then stay on the pulpit platform grinning with the President, and say in unison with the white majority, amen.
But before you decide to react in this stereotypical way, I want you to remember this. When OJ Simpson was accused of murdering two innocent white people and was acquitted by the highest rules of American law and justice, there was no forgiveness anywhere in sight.
People who considered themselves white, openly cried at the verdict rendered by America's own system of justice, as being unjust. And notice too, that despite his acquittal, OJ was hounded continuously until he was "set up" and hauled off to jail a second time on a trumped-up charge of having robbed himself of his won memorabilia. And once they severely twisted American justice to exact their revenge by finally jailing OJ, for 30 years for self-robbery, those people who consider themselves white, were not mad any more, either.
And by the way, it is not insignificant that one of Mr. Obama's own friends was also arrested for robbing himself too, for breaking and entering his own house. Mr. Obama called the first and only "Beer Summit," designed only to exonerate the white Boston cops involved. I doubt if anything like this has ever happened before in the nation's history.
The unmistakable lesson here is that people who consider themselves white, live by a different, arguably, much more primitive tribal moral code than others do: one that says only when white bodies are assailed shall there be retaliation, a call for collective revenge, psychotherapy or closure.
According to the accepted canons of white American humanity, those whose skins are not considered white, do not have these basic human rights: to retaliate, to exact revenge, or to expect closure, or access to psycho-therapy in this life, but maybe in the next one -- that is, in heaven. What they must do instead is meekly turn the other cheek, bow their heads in prayer, and then in unison sing "Amazing Grace," while publicly forgiving their white perpetrators? And this is especially true if the President is a member of their own black tribe?
If you don't believe me, just watch what will happen to white America's favorite "fake" black dad, the now throughly disgraced ex-doctor, ex- Medal of Freedom winner, Bill Cosby, who has allegedly raped more than four dozen women, most of them believing themselves to be white.
Already, even before he has been tried before a court of law, the long knives of white tribal revenge are out for Mr. Cosby's throat. "Said women" are all in psychotherapy, and have hired a suite of "dream-team" lawyers. However, when Mr. Cosby was busy lying about black male responsibility, as our present Uncle Tom President is still doing, he was America's darling black. A stalwart of the white version of what black manhood and fatherhood should be.
I want you to watch and observe just how the American political system and system of justice really works as white America turns against one of its own favorite Uncle Tom sons.
Mr. Cosby will not get a fair trial. He will never be forgiven, nor will he be able to escape the white ability to never forget a crime against a narrow triballized white humanity.
Even though the statute of limitations for his crimes have all already expired, he is already under house arrest up in Connecticut, imposed by collective white anger.
Mark my word, Samori, they will get him by hook-or-crook. They will re-open the legal books, and change the laws if necessary just to get this one wayward Uncle Tom's butt in jail. And then, no one will be singing "Amazing Grace." However, when they finally get Cos' black butt in jail, people who consider themselves white won't be mad anyone, either.
In fact, here is what you must remember about violence in America. It is okay for the white tribe to engage in it, and not okay for other tribes to do so. Rememberour first modern day terrorist, Army Ranger, Timothy McVeigh? Aslo did you ever notice on the TV show Cops, how armed, drunk and drugged-out white men and boys were always confronting the cops with guns, assault weapons, knives, hand grenades, and one in San Diego even drove an army battle tank against them, and yet not a single white man was shot; not a single case of justified homicide.
What you cannot forget is that when the white tribe engages in violence, it is just a case of "good old boys with a little too much of the sauce." But when you engage in violence, you must come to understand that it is a threat to the American social order. In effect, everyday you awake, you are considered a home-grown, domestic terrorist.
But here is the larger picture: Being strong in America by definition means that you have the power to use a gun to affect changes in your situation, in laws, in traditions and in the behavior of those who threaten your own tribal situation. It is called being an American Cowboy.
But this rule holds, only if your tribe happens to be white. Notice how our Uncle Tom President, even though he is the most powerful man in the universe, he pretends to be powerless to help his own tribe in any way, no matter how bad, or how desperate our situation gets?
In fact, you may remember that as a part of his political platform, Mr Obama was forced to make a declaration unique in American History: that the black tribe had nothing coming, that the racial status quo would not be changed on his watch. His mantra was a familiar racist dog whistle: "I am the president of all the people."
And at least on this score, he kept his political pledge. The only thing blacks have gotten from Mr. Obama is a lot of "symbol pie," like singing "Amazing Grace" at the funereal of nine black people shot down in cold blood while praying, by a racist white gunman.
Since Mrs. Clinton has already pledged herself to the Obama racist program of inaction towards the black tribe, a sine qua non of being elected as American President, then surely she will be elected in 2017. She too is likely to get 90% of the black vote too, even though Mr. Bernie Sanders at least sees economic inequality as the issue of your times. I say bern Bernie bern.
Samori, you cannot forget the two symbols juxtaposed at Mother Emanuel Baptist Church -- a powerful white racist with a gun; and a weak black American president without one, but nevertheless with a ready made parcel of pretty, kind healing words and a religious hymnbook. This is the mockery of human values that you must confront everyday for the rest of your life in the USA.
Put another way, only if you are a member of the white tribe in America can you have "agency" over your body.
Being a member of any other tribe, makes you the opposite of strong. It makes you weak and vulnerable -- even if you are President of the U.S. as Mr. Obama currently is. When black problems arise, only then must you revert to prayer, forgiveness, and song. White problems get attention. They get put on the American political agenda and then they get solved. But you must be able to sing "Amazing Grace" with feelings. And then you must tuck your tail and go home and remain mad for the rest of your life. That is what it means to be black in America.
Where else in the Known Universe will you see a man from one particular tribe, walk into a Baptist prayer meeting of another tribe; sit down with a fully-loaded legally purchased automatic assault rifle; get up and methodically mow down every praying person in sight? And then, even before the smoke is cleared from the church, everybody is forgiving this racist for his dastardly murders? Would it be any worse if Mr. Obama had awarded him Mr. Cosby's Medal of Freedom?
This kind of pageantry of violence, followed by on-the-spot redemption for a cold-blooded white killer, is indeed exceptional in the Known Universe of civilized people.
But white people think that bowing their heads, singing and praying, and tap-dancing around sensitive issues, should be normal only for black people, not for their tribe.
And frankly, Samori, I do not want you to associate with any black people, even if they happen to be the president of this nation, even if they call it religious piety, who would so distort their humanity as to accommodate such a twisted, debased and wicked moral social system.
So what I want you to know about your own country is this: No matter what it is called, there is nothing exceptional about American but its normalized and routinized violence.
With 320 million guns, violence can be found everywhere in American society. Nothing defines American culture better than the banality of its everyday violence. Each year since records have been kept, we have had more murders and homicides than the rest of the Western World combined -- often by a factor of ten.
There is open black and white violence, and there is closed passive-aggressive white racial violence; there is structural violence and there is white vigilante violence; there is black-on-black violence; organized and disorganized white violence; there is domestic violence; there is "state sanctioned" white police violence, there are 25-50 thousand murders in any given year, there is American instigated international violence, as in our "wars of choice." There are annual mass shootings in schools even against kids in kindergarten. There is violence both for and against the American Constitution. There are violent assassinations against those on the left, but rarely against those on the right. There is white church sexual violence against children. There is violence against women. There simply is no end to the violence in America....
However, you will eventually learn as I have, that America is exceptional only in the fact that it is the epicenter of violence at home as well as in the wider world. Maybe American society did not invent violence, but it did do something that is even more important than having invented it, and this is the real reason for my letter.
The American white tribe has invented clever and sophisticated means of forgetting about its own violence, bleaching it out of history as appropriate for all times.
Like forgetting that they wiped out the Indians, and killed 60 million buffaloes in little more than a decade to hasten Indian demise. Now of course, they still pretend that it was such an injustice to have killed so many innocent buffalos. But there is no sympathy for systematically having killed upwards of 5 million Indians.
Michael Vick, a talented Professional football player, was recently sentence to two years in jail just of having had his name added to a ring engaged in illegal dog-fighting. So you see how twisted the white idea of justice is? Killing millions of humans is okay, but please do not allow that black guy to kill a single poor dog?
No one wants to talk about the 12 million slaves that crossed the Atlantic, or about the four million who survived to build this country, working as chattel animals on tobacco, sugar cane and cotton plantations. But on any given day, you will find white America debating the merits and demerits of the best chemicals for the state to use to "humanely kill" those sentenced to death?
They have a name for what happened to both us and the Indians: Its called genocide. And for the correct selection of chemicals to "humanely kill humans," it called world-class white hypocrisy.
Likewise, we also have already forgotten that we invented Osama bin Laden too, and then unleashed him on the world, including on ourselves. And now, in the same way, by creating a power vacuum in Iraq, we have created Isis. Yet, Cheney and Bush, and all those who think like them, have already conveniently forgotten that these are our own creations.
But still none of this matters. For the real fear of violence in America is that its black and brown minorities might someday suddenly rise up against the white tribal majority, and begin to see that the game of race is a fraud that leaves all wealth in the hands of a few whites, and white tribal humanity naked and bankrupt.
Therefore to prevent this from ever happening, black and brown tribes respective must constantly be "beat down," and made to comply to America's most draconian racist social codes and rules.
In fact, the American social order was invented for just this very purpose. It is a social order that is so drenched in the black blood of white racial hatred and structural violence, that the nation is always a powder keg waiting to explode. It is a brittle hair trigger-thin social order, constantly in fear that those in its own midst will wake up someday with revenge and retaliation in their hearts and do to them, what whites for four centuries have done to them. That is the fear that maintains America's racist social system in a tenuous steady-state.
Samori, the white tribe is constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop, and I am sad to have to tell you this, but they think you are that next shoe?
Listen to me: Your life is in danger at all times. They will shoot you down like a dog in the streets like they did Michael Brown. No one will be there to collect your body from the streets, or to say that they are sorry.
White crimes against other tribes always get a moral pass. Not to have to say you are sorry, is what it means to be white.
Tribal violence in America is a one way street always moving from strong to weak; from white to black, never the other way around. Yet, whites consider their tribe to be a more advanced more superior from of humanity? So, you must remember that the U.S is exceptional only in the fact that it remains the epicenter of racial hatred and violent self-destructiveness. Five stars