It's a Saturday so I know this post may not get the level of attention it would on a weekday, the amount of visibility it deserves, but I must write.
I'd heard about Ta-Nehisi Coates by proxy really. My brother, also a writer, had put me up on Coates' award-winning article/essay titled "The Case for Reparations" in the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic.
I'd read the piece, but not fully processed it, mostly because having grown up in South Carolina during my formative years, I knew that making a case for reparations - which would undoubtedly require America to accept its role in enslaving my ancestors for hundreds of years in order to build the winning machine that is America and tell the winning story that is America's exceptionalism - in literary form was akin to watching spring football in Texas or the SEC.
Sure, people would give it a good look to see if they'd learn anything of substance about a key new player, it'd lead to a few conversations and media cycles, but everyone knew the real season was still a ways off. The real players weren't taxing themselves too much over this topic. Everyone knew spring was only valuable to the people who paid too much attention (site clickers and commenters) and had very little value to the people who paid for everything (the fans and boosters).
So while the article served as a valuable introduction to Coates' writing style, it was not the game-changing piece that would fully allow me to stop listening to the now tired and troublesome bickering between Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, the more senior voices amongst Black consciousness. No, that would come closer to the real football season, it turned out.
It's late July and not quite football season yet, but it's close enough. The space between the NBA Finals and the start of the college football season is usually one in which people like myself - sports fans - lament the lack of excitement in our lives. The other part of me - the whole of me, my Blackness and my intellect - got all the excitement I needed from an irregular political season that suddenly filled the gap.
The 9 fatal shootings in a Charleston church by a white American terrorist, the ensuing reaction of America that led to the recent removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol building. The Supreme Court's affirmation of the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, stabilizing Obama's legacy not as the first Black president, but as the first good president of the 21st Century and one of the most important - through legislation and policy moreso than skin color - in history.
These were not planned nor projected occurrences by most accounts, but they did in fact comprise of a season unlike any other. Like a 6th round draft pick becoming a Pro Bowler or a team with a once-disappointing quarterback suddenly making a deep playoff run. There was the pain, anger, sadness, and confusion that comes from losing battles (games, to some) we thought we'd had in the bag already or thought we didn't have to enter at all; "we have a Black president, we're post-racial" or "why do we have to say #BlackLivesMatter...we should say #AllLivesMatter". There was also the sense of strength, emotional fortitude, a feeling of triumph and dignity that comes from bringing home a victory despite many injuries and losses of key players along the way, as was the case for the not-so-long-ago tattered supporters of Obama, those voters who saw his vindication (during his speech at Rev. Clementa Pinckney's funeral and during his press conferences following those monumental Supreme Court rulings) as their own, like fans who'd just watched their favorite team battle back from near defeat.
This unexpected season had several precursors as far as Black America is concerned, yet it's still far from over. Many reasons we could see this coming, from the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown to the scenes in Ferguson and Baltimore. But the idea that something good would come of these murders, this terrorism and this reminder of the hierarchy of things here in America - white over Black, heritage over humanity, a controlled police state over a Constitutionally-backed justice system - was still so far off. This hope was on the tip of our tongue, only we'd be told to hold it in for we had no right to share our anguish, our experiences with the more modern and nuanced forms of hatred and racism, so as not to upset the ways of the world today, when everyone has an iPhone, a post-recession bank account and a vacation to the beach planned this summer.
But this attempt at asking us - Black Americans - to be silent (and post-racial) turned out to be nothing more than a bye week in this unexpected season.
A new star player used that bye week for additional preparations. It turns out Ta-Nehisi Coates was saving his legs, his eloquence, for a key turning point in the season. Disappointed as many may have been with Obama during the first years of his presidency, he did bring us this far into the season, he carried us on his back to be honest - through a recession, to the end of wars, to a better health care system, to two important female voices on the nation's highest court - with so little as a signing bonus. If Dez Bryant wanted to get paid for his efforts on behalf of America's team, one can only imagine what will come due to Obama for the nation-altering performance he's put together through the first three quarters of his tenure.
Now, with Obama now taking longer strides - on Iran, on global trade, on prison reform - with the wind at his side rather than directly in his face (that same wind can be seen on Fox News pushing him to the side as a supposed "lame duck president", out of office in just 18 months), it's this new player - Coates - who has the potential to carry Black America or should I say carry Blackness deeper into the American consciousness.
I have a business that recommends local places. It's fitting because I'm a natural at recommending things. I've almost always been relied upon to recommend new music or clothing brands or trip destinations or movies to others. I have a color-coordinated book shelf in my apartment full of books Ive read, but few of my favorite books (from novels like "Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami to entrepreneurial stuff like Bo Peabody's "Lucky or Smart") are still with me because my recommendations of these books have typically come with a willingness to lend these books to friends never to be seen again.
That said, I don't plan on lending my copy of Coates' new work of legend "Between the World and Me" - a book Toni Morrison calls "required reading" - to anyone unless they promise to return it.
This is a book I plan to keep for years and years and hand down to a son of my own one day. The book, written in theory as a letter to his teenaged son Somari, is precisely what every Black American needs today and the kind of work that American classrooms shouldn't wait until February to introduce to high school juniors and seniors. Coates captures the essence of being Black in America not as someone writing a book about chasing a dream (the Dream as he calls it) or someone escaping the Jim Crow South, but as someone simply trying to share the many nuanced experiences that color the field in which Black Americans play rather than the one most Americans are on.
In the political climate of 2015, the one partially detailed above, "Between the World and Me" stands above any other work due to its brevity, its tone, it's personal yet universal sense of purpose, its apposite retelling of transgressions made against Blacks by America and its timing.
Say what you want about perceptions of a post-racial America, but America wrote the book on race and racism, with chapters of brutality and blunder dating back hundreds of years. Recently, truly for the first time ever, some of these chapters are beginning to be co-authored (even if in a room in which Blacks are significantly outnumbered) by Black people.
Our music - from jazz and blues to Kanye and Beyonce - consume America's headphones. Our entertainers - from Ali and Jordan to Oprah and Kevin Hart - capture America's gaze. Our artists - from Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes to Alvin Ailey and Misty Copeland - command America's attention. And our history of struggle and survival - from the slave trade and Nat Turner to Jim Crow and police killings - is what conjures up the American exceptionalism you hear so much about from politicians.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has just published the most important book for Black intellectuals in my lifetime, and given we're still a few weeks off from the start of football season, I truly hope everyone - no, not just Black people with college degrees - make some time to read "Between the World and Me".