If you struggle to understand the ideas of privilege
and racism, read Between the World and Me.
Last year, my daughter and a friend started a book club and vowed to read books by Black authors. Admittedly, I wasn’t in the club, but I acted like I was. I read Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Malcolm and Me by Robin Farmer, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.
My last book of 2020 was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a 150-page letter from the author to his teenage son – and to readers – about what it means to exist in a Black body. A parenting epistle of sorts, the book effortlessly weaves the history of racism with Coates’ personal narrative – from growing up in Baltimore, to his time at Howard University, to the murder of a college friend by police, to a field trip to a Civl War battlefield, to a family vacation to Paris.
2020 was a year of racial reckoning, of awakening, and of civic and social unrest. Call it what you want, but after George Floyd was killed by police in late May, people were marching, demonstrating – and talking. If you didn’t have at least one uncomfortable conversation with a family member or close friend, you missed an opportunity to grow and learn.
Coates’ book gives parents a personal and poignant snapshot of society and how a Black father’s mind is wired to keep his children safe in a racist world. Think of reading Between the World and Me as yet another opportunity.
I recently watched Between The World And Me: HBO Special on HBO Max with my daughter. Directed by award-winning director and Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes, who also serves as an executive producer alongside Coates and Susan Kelechi Watson, the show is based on the 2018 adaptation and staging of the book at the Apollo Theater.
The HBO Special combines elements of the Apollo’s production and includes powerful readings from Coates’ book by Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Joe Morton, Yara Shahidi, Phylicia Rashad, Angelia Davis, and others. The production incorporates documentary footage from the actors’ home lives, archival footage, and animation.
While my daughter did not read the book, she was moved by the production, especially the highly effective use of visual arts. Whether you read the book or not, white parents should watch the HBO Special and talk about racial equity, systemic racism, and white privilege with your kids. I recommend it for families with kids ages twelve and up.