Ta-Nehisi Coates is not the first person to think the things he has written in this book. Nor is he the first person to write them down, let alone tell a child. I confess I am ignorant of the work of James Baldwin so I do not understand what Toni Morrison means when her book endorsement claims Coates’ is the one who can fill the “intellectual void” left by Baldwin’s death. I read every article he publishes, but I am not a scholar enough of good writing to even know if Coates is the best writer working today (as some have said).
But I do know this: After only a few dozen pages of Between the World and Me, I have been both convicted and given grace by Coates’ words. Not easy grace, simple grace, “cheap grace.” But a grace that cares enough to make these truths-hard, personal, terrible truths-known. This is a work of love not just for his son, but for the whole of our nation. For me.
I have been called to acknowledge that I (as Coates terms it) “believe myself to be white” and that belief is a damaging one. To “believe myself to be white” is to believe that, no matter my good intentions, I sit in a place of superiority about which I can do nothing but use my privilege to raise all boats. This is an accepting of a lie as the truth. It is a lie from which I have operated for so long, even when I was taught that I must operate as a “good white person,” a self-sacrificing white person. No. I am not white. I am a liar.
So, in these nascent moments of my interaction with Coates, I must publicly acknowledge this grace given unto me. And, like the grace of God, I must give thanks for it and resolve to live in gratitude because of it.
I may be a Midwestern man of Scotch-Irish decent, but I am not “White.” I do not deserve whatever special perch upon which I sit. So, I’d like to find a new perch-a stronger perch, a bigger perch-where we can all rest a bit from our labors. And one day I hope that I could sit on this perch with Ta-Nehisi Coates so I can thank him for what he has done for me.