I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book The Beautiful Struggle.  Confused as I was from the insurmountable references to 80s Baltimore black culture, I was moved by his lyricism and insight. As someone who reads Coates’ blog at The Atlantic and has considered him more or less a peaceful, thoughtful, and funny person, I was surprised and humbled by his life story. (Though I sure we all have our teenage indiscretions that made us the mature adults we are today…)  Coates has just told the story of a dispute he had with a classmate over a few words of innocent disrespect. The most powerful and humbling passage comes near the end of the book.

Nowadays, I cut on the tube and see the dumbfounded looks, when over some minor violation of name and respect, a black boy is found leaking on the street. The anchors shake their heads. The activists give their stupid speeches, praising mythical days when all disputes were handled down at Ray’s Gym. Politicians step up to the mic, claim the young have gone mad, their brains infected, and turned superpredator. Fuck you all who’ve ever spoken so foolishly, who’ve opened your mouths like we don’t know what this is. We have read the books you own, the scorecards you keep–done the mathand emerged prophetic. We know how we will die–with cousins in double murder suicides, in wars that are mere theory to you, convalescing in hospitals, slowly choked out by angina and cholesterol. We are the walking lowest rung, and all tha tstands between us and beast, between us and the local zoo, is respect, the respect you take as natural as sugar and shit. We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us.


I am still digesting this passage. My initial reaction was to tear up with guilt, look out the window, and apologize. I may continue my attempts to understand, but I never will fully – and that is what I have gained from this book. It’s something I’ve always known-that innately, as a white woman, no matter how much rap/hip-hop I listen to, how many black authors I read, how much black history I comprehend – I will never understand that feeling (not to mean that it is not real) of constant disrespect. This passage hit that message home.

update: Amidst the seriousness there are quite a few laughs!


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