Thoughts on Racism in America

The following are some of my thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book, Between the World and Me, a long-form letter from the author to his young-adult son about growing up as an African American in the United States. This book is a conversational, personal, and philosophical memoir of sorts. It gets under the skin. It engages readers on an emotional level. It is very helpful for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of the racial conflicts that are often swiftly stated, misunderstood, and brushed aside in political discourse.

My hope is that these notes are a form of active listening, though they are probably mostly poor misstatements of other people’s ideas. I hope to unearth some of my own healthy and unhealthy assumptions. I do not always recognize which are which. Active repenting with the hope of learning and understanding more. I stand correctable.

  • I am one of “those who think they are white.”
  • Race is the child of racism rather than the other way around
  • African Americans can reasonably assume they will be found guilty before they are found innocent.
  • There is so much about racism that I must unlearn.
  • There are garden of opposing ideas about racism even among African Americans.
  • An African American has to be twice as good.
  • An African American is rarely free to show anger and frustration.
  • An African American is often punished (in ways that other citizens are not) for expressions perceived to be a form of dissent.
  • Members of the executive branch of the U.S. government are not held accountable for their errors to the same degree most U.S. citizens are. This is a safety net and a privilege afforded especially to white police officers.
  • Innocence is a myth and a dream that some citizens believe at their peril.
  • I cannot be quick to dismiss this: An African American lives in a vulnerable world without protections, without law enforcement, without checks and balances, where anything evil could strike at any moment. This is not an imagined reality. This reality has been routinely demonstrated for friends, neighbors and family.
  • Not only are some citizens not under the protection of the law enforcers, but they are vulnerable to abuse by those enforcers.
  • It only adds to the delusion to dismiss this reality as a subjective over-exaggeration based only on “imagined slights.”
  • The ones who decry that African Americans are exaggerating “imagined slights” are privileged with a singular, protected, nurtured, liberated imagination, and an obtuse, abstract understanding of what a “slight” is.
  • African Americans are expected to return injustice with a servile, passive, Christian response. If they do not, it is OK to dismiss them and any injustice that might befall them.
  • “All men are created equal” is not automatically put into practice just because it is “self evident.”
  • “All men are created equal” is an ideal that must be demonstrated, defended, and fought for. It is possible to dismiss those who fight for this idea in the name of fighting for this idea.
  • African Americans don’t have the luxury of assuming (or fantasizing) that a minority of corrupt enforcers can be written off in favor of the dream of a noble enforcer.
  • An African American doesn’t usually have the luxury of giving or being given the benefit of the doubt.
  • Experience matters.
  • Cancer is not a subjective force or a force of misunderstanding.
  • A suggestion: Unfairness is relative. Injustice is not relative.
  • Pictures of black children hugging white police officers are a soporific song for some citizens. For those who suffer under the burden of the American dream, it is more like a punch to the stomach.
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