“Race is the child of racism, not the father,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me. Discussing his newest novel for Brooklyn Voices at St. Joseph’s College, Ta-Nehisi describes Between the World and Me as a record of the stages in which he became conscious of a tough reality. He examines the racial inequities of our society and in a conversation with president and editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, James Bennet, he explains this powerful quote.
To clarify this idea, Ta-Nehisi paints a picture of the common misconception that many Americans have: the belief that the problem of racism is derived from a disparity of power between groups of people and these groups do not get along as a result. He talks of the belief that race existed before racism, that black people are a race from Africa and white people are a race from Europe, and that if these groups were to get along there would be no racism. He explains that this is wrong because there is no coherent definition of race that can be maintained across time and geography. Race is a modern invention that happens when there is a need for labor in the Western Hemisphere and the need to justify this labor. Ta-Nehisi points out that race is not science, but rather, a political decision; thus, it did not precede racism as the “father.”
In describing how he came to write Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi, ironically enough, says it began when he had worked for The Atlantic. His primary job had been to keep a blog filled and he used this as a platform to research more things. People would comment on the content suggesting readings for him and through accumulating more and more knowledge, he decided to write his novel.
However, Between the World and Me has often been criticized for being “too pessimistic.” To this, Ta-Nehisi jokes that these people should spend some time in the history department if they want to see content that is truly depressing, but although the material is not uplifting, it is deeply enlightening. His intention was not to write a book that would make people feel good at the end of the day — having the novel be hopeful was not his motivation for writing it.
When asked what advice he has on being a writer, he is more inscriptive and encourages people to read and write as much as possible and to get out into the world to experience life. Emphasizing the importance of wanting to improve as being the motivator rather than wanting to be published, he advises aspiring writers to avoid the glamour traps. He also warns that it will be lonely and, on a more hopeful note, says that the beauty will come after.
Our last Brooklyn Voices presentation of the season takes place on November 12, when Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor present Welcome to Night Vale.