Sunday, September 06, 2015

Book #36: Between the World and Me

I drove home today after a short visit to Telluride, Colorado. On the way, I passed a town called Paradox, and for the next couple hundred miles, I thought about how it was an apt word to describe many aspects of race in our society.

Even the concept of race is a paradox: it is not real (in the sense of being an artificial social construct based on the false notion of racial supremacy) and very real (in the sense of lived experiences).

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a black man who grew up in Baltimore. This is his story of his experience. It is a worthwhile and challenging read.

Coates wrote this book as a letter to his teenage son. Early on, he acknowledges that he and his son have and will experience race differently--different generations, different life circumstances.

That's another paradox. We collectively experience race, but we each see (or fail to see) our experiences through our own individual lenses, all of us with our own perceptions and understanding.

And we often have a hard time believing that what other people experience can exist simultaneously with what we experience.

While I was in Telluride, a family member mentioned an editorial about the book by David Brooks. As I read Brooks' resistance to some of what Coates wrote, I found myself resisting Brooks' resistance. I had not read Coates the same way. In part, my lens was shaped by my experiences as a woman living in a patriarchal society and having empathy for the struggle to have your voice heard (all heightened by watching a screening of the upcoming film Suffragette at the Telluride Film Festival while I was in the middle of the book).

So not only do we personally experience race differently, we experience the stories people tell about their own experiences with race differently. More paradox.

Then perhaps the greatest paradox of all: we can only disappear race by seeing it very clearly.


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