It’s days like today where everything feels off, like one of your legs stopped working from the knee down or you got a hangover from not drinking. Your shoes don’t fit and your clothing is tight and everything around you is not its normal, beautiful self.
For example: the leaves on my street are all dying. They’re beautiful Sycamore trees that should be bright green and perfect this Summer but, instead, they’ve drooped into Autumnal tones, leaves browned and groudned, crunching under foot. The time and place seem tilted and clearly wrong: nothing is right.
The trees are clearly mourning and, like the non-fitting shoes and too constricting clothing, something is wrong with us. You wake up yesterday to the news of Alton Sterling and think about it all day, as choruses of people mourn, even his own son—Publicly, on national television.—crying for his father. Time is slow, sad, and you feel galvanized from the weighted, resigned words of Roxane Gay and Shaun King and Kara Brown who are confused and frustrated and hopelessly hope that things will get better despite them repeatedly not, despite repeatedly being boxed back in. Then, again, as if on cue, as if predicted, as if a scene in an unthinkable political drama, the everything is tilted—again—as you have an unfortunate introduction to Philando Castile, a brutal murder that was broadcast live on Facebook, like a deleted scene from a Purge movie leaked.
It doesn’t matter how you wanted to wake up today because it won’t go right. You were forced out of bed on the wrong side and must think about how to correct things. Can you? It seems like the concept of fighting against police brutality, protesting with Black Lives Matter, voting against anti-gun laws, wanting body cameras, etc. are just not working.
What can we do?, you think. What can be done since nothing we do is doing anything? How can we protect ourselves, our friends, our lovers, our family?
After Orlando, so many straight and cisgender people came out in support of LGBT persons, to stand up and say, “We support you because we love you.” But, unlike the mourning in solidarity for the loss of 49 lives, yesterday and today we have to step back and see that the number is well into the thousands. While not one “big,” isolated incident, so many happen quietly, silently, and without the unfortunate spotlight of an Internet broadcast. This has happened for more days than we’ve had in the past two years. You couldn’t even use a day a year to mourn the lives of all these people. As D.L. sobbed on television this morning, “It’s too much.”
It feels like all we have now is our words, our stories, our conversations about how this can be fixed. Yes, we can—And will.—rally behind a candidate who has stood in solidarity with the mothers of the black victims slain but we need to also armor ourselves with experiences, with other voices, with each other.
If you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ Between The World And Me, today is the day to pick the book up, to read it, to soak in his experience, which is the experience of so many of our friends and family and lovers and peers. It’s an extended essay from Coates to his son, detailing his fears and his worries and the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, second-to-second struggle of being a black body in America. It deals with the lust of wanting to escape and the weight of other issues that harm more than the black body. It’s a step into what it is like to be dark skinned in America and the constant fear that you, at any point, could become The Target because of the your skin tone.
And here’s the crushing fact: the book, a call to action that was met with a MacArthur Genius Grant, is less than a year old yet it feels like it came out a decade ago, lost in these constant awful transactions of poor policing. It came out on July 14, 2015—a year ago in a week—and we’re seated, exhausted, in the throes of seeing so many black men and women die instead of being arm in arm, hand in hand against the force. This isn’t for a lack of trying, no, but it feels like we’re under the thumb of whoever—The police, the gunmakers, the racists, Donald Trump, etc.—who are pushing us all down together, sweeping black bodies into the ground. It’s frustrating and it’s sad and, again, we are left with our words or a lack thereof.
This is why Coates is important. His words are armored, laced in steel, he both a literal and figurative one man Black Panther here to protect and serve in the way that our “police” are not. Works like Between The World And Me have a power, the same power that Black Lives Matter has, the same power that you can have by speaking up and standing up for all the black lives in your life.
As Ray Bradbury wrote, “a book is a loaded gun.” A real gun, no—Thank god.—but a weapon to fuel the mind, to charge forward and inspire change, to be shared and re-shared and appreciated again and again and again. As we approach the eve of Coates’ book release anniversary, we have to pause: it was supposed to stop. There was an end in sight but, as America keeps doing to black lives and trans lives and female lives and queer lives and latino lives and any minority life, our salvation is delayed and the fight must continue anew. To believe this week started so sweetly with Independence Day. To believe that last year, on July 4, The Atlantic published an excerpt from Coates’ book as a means of protesting comment on America’s relationship to race.
“Here is what I would like for you to know,” Coates tells his son in the book. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”