“The writer … must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.” Pg.53
In order to lessen my load while travelling, I left all of my books in storage (my books!), and decided to read from the bookshelves of wherever I stayed.
Last Sunday night, while housesitting in Scotts Valley, I grabbed The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Considered a classic, and one I was never forced to read in school, I cracked it open, and read chapters 1-5. I noted the cleanliness of the prose and skillful plot development, but easily put it down with no need to pick it back up.
I had spent years of my life reading Hemingway, Bukowski, E.E. Cummings, Vonnegut, but now I wanted to hear different voices, read from other perspectives. I went to sleep that night thinking about this blog, and about who I wanted to be as an artist and as a citizen.
The following morning, I scoured the bookshelves for a book not written by a white guy. I came across Between the World and Me, which had won last year’s National Book Award, and which had been a bestseller at the Bookshop where I work.
It is a small book and an engrossing read. Three days later, when I closed the book, after reading its last words, I looked up at Michelle and said, “What a great fucking book. Wow!”
The book assumes the form of a letter written from Te-Nehisi Coates to his son. The letter reads like a warning from one black man who grew up in Baltimore – a father who has seen first hand how dangerous our country is for black men- to a son, whose more affluent experience of “racial” America differs.
(I put “race” in quotations because it is what the author does, when explaining to his son that “race” is a construct created by white men to create divisions between humans, and that to be “white” has historically been a way to deny certain privileges and rights from “others”)
The book most woke me up when it spoke to The Dream. Coates describes The Dream as the white suburban life that he, as a child in Baltimore, knew only from the Television- a life consisting of rooms full of toys, parents that never hit you, and streets and school halls that were safe to walk down; good schools with good teachers.
His descriptions of The Dream struck me, because it sounded like my childhood. I grew up white, into a loving family of means, who could afford to give me gifts at holidays and put new clothes on my back whenever the season’s changed; to take us on trips, and to give me an allowance, so that I could afford to buy baseball cards and go to the arcade and to the ice cream shop.
When I think about the greatest gift I received from this book, I read and reread this quote:
“Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.” Pg. 146
Here is a great list of more books by women and people of color.