Raw, SRJC students get an uncensored look at growing up African American

Beatriz Verneaux, Staff Writer

If there was ever a time to discuss racism in the U.S., it’s now.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book “Between the World and Me” effectively combines poetic language with a deep analysis of African American history through the lens of the author’s experience as a black father raising children in today’s tense racial climate. The book is a direct channel of communication aimed at black people, but readers of all races can and will benefit from the raw honesty of this work.

“Between the World and Me” is Santa Rosa Junior College’s fall Work of Literary Merit, which means it is being read by all English 1A students at the college as well as other students, faculty and staff. English instructor Michael Hale will lecture on the book from noon to 1 p.m. on Oct. 24. Other events include a faculty panel on Nov. 3, and an evening community event on Nov. 9. All events are in Newman Auditorium.

Coates, a journalist at ‘The Atlantic’ magazine, structures his book as a series of essays in the form of letters addressed to his own young son. In these letters, the author’s poetic language doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles of growing up as a young black American in a country that still reeks of slavery, the Jim Crow era and modern racial tensions. Coates writes openly about the vulnerability of being a young black man, one who is more likely to be pulled over or even shot by police. He addresses a system that he feels forcefully prevents minority success in education and stimulates violence among community members.

Some of the most beautiful passages in the work combine poetry and prose, helping readers navigate a bleak world of racial trauma. Coates confronts readers with the story of shooting victims, Tamir Rice, 12, and Michael Brown, 18, by reminding author’s 15-year-old son that he could have been a victim. Coates also revisits his own childhood, where he struggled against a society that refused to see him and his peers as individuals with different needs and wants.

Mainstream media rarely represents African Americans in books or TV as vulnerable, fleshed out and deep people. It refuses to acknowledge the complexity of black culture in the country, which generated its own vernacular, its own set of rules and expectations. The fact that black people are the target audience of this book is important to society as a whole. In order to understand a group of people, it’s necessary to hear what they have to say to each other.

While the book’s brief length could cause some readers to downplay its seriousness, the brevity makes for an even more visceral read.

Everyone should read this book regardless of race and gender. Not only is it a profoundly beautiful piece of art, but it can impact positive change in the lives of readers—both those who have experienced racism, and those who need to become more educated about the issues.