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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME PDF

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Read Between the World and Me PDF - by Ta-Nehisi Coates Spiegel & Grau | Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates's journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. As profound as it is revelatory.” —Toni. ing but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing. Fully. Book review by Dave Lehman. Between the World and Me. Earlier photo of Coates and .


Between The World And Me Pdf

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The title of this work is drawn from the poem “Between the World and Me" from “Between the World and Me" from White Man Listen! by Richard Wright. Between the World and Me is a work of nonfiction. oaks and elms And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me . Editorial Reviews. cittadelmonte.info Review. An Amazon Best Book of July Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his .

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I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather. These were the summonses that you answered with your left foot forward, your right foot back, your hands guarding your face, one slightly lower than the other, cocked like a hammer.

I think of this as a great difference between us. You have some acquaintance with the old rules, but they are not as essential to you as they were to me. I am sure that you have had to deal with the occasional roughneck on the subway or in the park, but when I was about your age, each day, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body.

I do not long for those days. I think I was always, somehow, aware of the price. I think I felt that something out there, some force, nameless and vast, had robbed me of…what?

I think you know something of what that third could have done, and I think that is why you may feel the need for escape even more than I did. You have seen all the wonderful life up above the tree-line, yet you understand that there is no real distance between you and Trayvon Martin, and thus Trayvon Martin must terrify you in a way that he could never terrify me. You have seen so much more of all that is lost when they destroy your body.

The streets were not my only problem. If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left. Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later. I suffered at the hands of both, but I resent the schools more. There was nothing sanctified about the laws of the streets—the laws were amoral and practical. You rolled with a posse to the party as sure as you wore boots in the snow, or raised an umbrella in the rain.

But the laws of the schools were aimed at something distant and vague. And what precisely did this have to do with an education rendered as rote discipline? To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly. Educated children walked in single file on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route.

Educated children never offered excuses—certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls. How could the schools? Algebra, Biology, and English were not subjects so much as opportunities to better discipline the body, to practice writing between the lines, copying the directions legibly, memorizing theorems extracted from the world they were created to represent.

All of it felt so distant to me. I remember sitting in my seventh-grade French class and not having any idea why I was there. I did not know any French people, and nothing around me suggested I ever would. France was a rock rotating in another galaxy, around another sun, in another sky that I would never cross.

Why, precisely, was I sitting in this classroom? The question was never answered.

I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance.

I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them. I sensed the schools were hiding something, drugging us with false morality so that we would not see, so that we did not ask: Why—for us and only us—is the other side of free will and free spirits an assault upon our bodies? This is not a hyperbolic concern. When our elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing.

Fully 60 percent of all young black men who drop out of high school will go to jail. This should disgrace the country. Schools did not reveal truths, they concealed them. Perhaps they must be burned away so that the heart of this thing might be known.

Unfit for the schools, and in good measure wanting to be unfit for them, and lacking the savvy I needed to master the streets, I felt there could be no escape for me or, honestly, anyone else.

The fearless boys and girls who would knuckle up, call on cousins and crews, and, if it came to it, pull guns seemed to have mastered the streets. I saw their futures in the tired faces of mothers dragging themselves onto the 28 bus, swatting and cursing at three-year-olds; I saw their futures in the men out on the corner yelling obscenely at some young girl because she would not smile.

Some of them stood outside liquor stores waiting on a few dollars for a bottle. We would hand them a twenty and tell them to keep the change. We could not get out. The ground we walked was trip-wired. The air we breathed was toxic. The water stunted our growth. A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me.

Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body.

I was a capable boy, intelligent, well-liked, but powerfully afraid. And I felt, vaguely, wordlessly, that for a child to be marked off for such a life, to be forced to live in fear was a great injustice. And what was the source of this fear? What was hiding behind the smoke screen of streets and schools? And what did it mean that number 2 pencils, conjugations without context, Pythagorean theorems, handshakes, and head nods were the difference between life and death, were the curtains drawing down between the world and me?

I could not retreat, as did so many, into the church and its mysteries. My parents rejected all dogmas. We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems.

We would not kneel before their God. And so I had no sense that any just God was on my side. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box. That was the message of the small-eyed boy, untucking the piece—a child bearing the power to body and banish other children to memory.

Fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the Dream out there, to the unworried boys, to pie and pot roast, to the white fences and green lawns nightly beamed into our television sets. But how? Religion could not tell me. The schools could not tell me.

The streets could not help me see beyond the scramble of each day. And I was such a curious boy. I was raised that way. Your grandmother taught me to read when I was only four.

She also taught me to write, by which I mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation. When I was in trouble at school which was quite often she would make me write about it. Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher? Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect? How would I want someone to behave while I was talking?

What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson? I have given you these same assignments. I gave them to you not because I thought they would curb your behavior—they certainly did not curb mine—but because these were the earliest acts of interrogation, of drawing myself into consciousness. Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing—myself.

Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent. My impulses were not filled with unfailing virtue. And feeling that I was as human as anyone, this must be true for other humans. If I was not innocent, then they were not innocent. Could this mix of motivation also affect the stories they tell? The cities they built? The country they claimed as given to them by God? Now the questions began burning in me. The materials for research were all around me, in the form of books assembled by your grandfather.

He was then working at Howard University as a research librarian in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, one of the largest collections of Africana in the world.

Your grandfather loved books and loves them to this day, and they were all over the house, books about black people, by black people, for black people spilling off shelves and out of the living room, boxed up in the basement. Dad had been a local captain in the Black Panther Party. I was attracted to their guns, because the guns seemed honest. The guns seemed to address this country, which invented the streets that secured them with despotic police, in its primary language—violence.

And I compared the Panthers to the heroes given to me by the schools, men and women who struck me as ridiculous and contrary to everything I knew.

Every February my classmates and I were herded into assemblies for a ritual review of the Civil Rights Movement. Our teachers urged us toward the example of freedom marchers, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summers, and it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera.

The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life—love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the fire-hoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets.

They seemed to love the men who raped them, the women who cursed them, love the children who spat on them, the terrorists that bombed them. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent?

I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality. Back then all I could do was measure these freedom-lovers by what I knew. The world, the real one, was civilization secured and ruled by savage means. How could the schools valorize men and women whose values society actively scorned? How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were, and then speak of nonviolence?

I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body.

And I began to see these two arms in relation— those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. Forget about intentions. Our world is physical. Learn to play defense—ignore the head and keep your eyes on the body. Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction.

Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. An unceasing interrogation of the stories told to us by the schools now felt essential. It felt wrong not to ask why, and then to ask it again. I took these questions to my father, who very often refused to offer an answer, and instead referred me to more books. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. Some things were clear to me: And this violence was not magical, but was of a piece and by design.

But what exactly was the design? And why? I must know. I must get out…but into what? I devoured the books because they were the rays of light peeking out from the doorframe, and perhaps past that door there was another world, one beyond the gripping fear that undergirded the Dream. In this blooming consciousness, in this period of intense questioning, I was not alone. Seeds planted in the s, forgotten by so many, sprung up from the ground and bore fruit. Hip-hop artists quoted him in lyrics, cut his speeches across the breaks, or flashed his likeness in their videos.

If I could have chosen a flag back then, it would have been embroidered with a portrait of Malcolm X, dressed in a business suit, his tie dangling, one hand parting a window shade, the other holding a rifle. The portrait communicated everything I wanted to be— controlled, intelligent, and beyond the fear. Here was all the angst I felt before the heroes of February, distilled and quotable.

You do not give your precious body to the billy clubs of Birmingham sheriffs nor to the insidious gravity of the streets. Black is beautiful—which is to say that the black body is beautiful, that black hair must be guarded against the torture of processing and lye, that black skin must be guarded against bleach, that our noses and mouths must be protected against modern surgery.

We are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder. I loved him because he made it plain, never mystical or esoteric, because his science was not rooted in the actions of spooks and mystery gods but in the work of the physical world.

He was unconcerned with making the people who believed they were white comfortable in their belief. If he was angry, he said so. He would not turn the other cheek for you. He would not be a better man for you. He would not be your morality.

Malcolm spoke like a man who was free, like a black man above the laws that proscribed our imagination. I identified with him. I knew that he had chafed against the schools, that he had almost been doomed by the streets. But even more I knew that he had found himself while studying in prison, and that when he emerged from the jails, he returned wielding some old power that made him speak as though his body were his own.

And I felt the truth of this in the blocks I had to avoid, in the times of day when I must not be caught walking home from school, in my lack of control over my body.

Perhaps I too might live free. Perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X, and speak—no, act—as though my body were my own. Perhaps I might write something of consequence someday.

I had been reading and writing beyond the purview of the schools all my life. Already I was scribbling down bad rap lyrics and bad poetry. The air of that time was charged with the call for a return, to old things, to something essential, some part of us that had been left behind in the mad dash out of the past and into America.

The missing thing was related to the plunder of our bodies, the fact that any claim to ourselves, to the hands that secured us, the spine that braced us, and the head that directed us, was contestable.

This was two years before the Million Man March. I was haunted by the bodily sacrifice of Malcolm, by Attica and Stokely. Perhaps we should go back. Perhaps we should return to Mecca. I have tried to explain this to you many times. You say that you hear me, that you understand, but I am not so sure that the force of my Mecca—The Mecca—can be translated into your new and eclectic tongue.

I am not even sure that it should be. My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own. You can no more be black like I am black than I could be black like your grandfather was. And still, I maintain that even for a cosmopolitan boy like you, there is something to be found there—a base, even in these modern times, a port in the American storm.

Surely I am biased by nostalgia and tradition. Your grandfather worked at Howard. Your uncles Damani and Menelik and your aunts Kris and Kelly graduated from there.

I met your mother there, your uncle Ben, your aunt Kamilah and aunt Chana. I was admitted to Howard University, but formed and shaped by The Mecca. These institutions are related but not the same. The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body. The Mecca derives its power from the heritage of Howard University, which in Jim Crow days enjoyed a near-monopoly on black talent.

And whereas most other historically black schools were scattered like forts in the great wilderness of the old Confederacy, Howard was in Washington, D. The history, the location, the alumni combined to create The Mecca—the crossroads of the black diaspora. I first witnessed this power out on the Yard, that communal green space in the center of the campus where the students gathered and I saw everything I knew of my black self multiplied out into seemingly endless variations.

There were the scions of Nigerian aristocrats in their business suits giving dap to bald-headed Qs in purple windbreakers and tan Timbs.

There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt. There were Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses. And overlaying all of this was the history of Howard itself. The Mecca—the vastness of black people across space-time—could be experienced in a twenty-minute walk across campus. I saw this vastness in the students chopping it up in front of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, where Muhammad Ali had addressed their fathers and mothers in defiance of the Vietnam War.

I saw its epic sweep in the students next to Ira Aldridge Theater, where Donny Hathaway had once sung, where Donald Byrd had once assembled his flock.

Some of them came up from Tubman Quadrangle with their roommates and rope for Double Dutch. Some of them came down from Drew Hall, with their caps cocked and their backpacks slung through one arm, then fell into gorgeous ciphers of beatbox and rhyme. Some of the girls sat by the flagpole with bell hooks and Sonia Sanchez in their straw totes. Some of the boys, with their new Yoruba names, beseeched these girls by citing Frantz Fanon.

Some of them studied Russian. Some of them worked in bone labs. They were Panamanian. They were Bajan. And some of them were from places I had never heard of. But all of them were hot and incredible, exotic even, though we hailed from the same tribe. The black world was expanding before me, and I could see now that that world was more than a photonegative of that of the people who believe they are white.

Sometimes this power is direct lynching , and sometimes it is insidious redlining. There will surely always be people with straight hair and blue eyes, as there have been for all history. We did not choose our fences. They were imposed on us by Virginia planters obsessed with enslaving as many Americans as possible.

The result is a people, black people, who embody all physical varieties and whose life stories mirror this physical range. Through The Mecca I saw that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself.

Now, the heirs of those Virginia planters could never directly acknowledge this legacy or reckon with its power. Everyone of any import, from Jesus to George Washington, was white. This was why your grandparents banned Tarzan and the Lone Ranger and toys with white faces from the house. Serious history was the West, and the West was white.

This was all distilled for me in a quote I once read from the novelist Saul Bellow. We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior.

And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use? Contrary to this theory, I had Malcolm. I had my mother and father. I had my readings of every issue of The Source and Vibe. I read them not merely because I loved black music—I did —but because of the writing itself.

Writers Greg Tate, Chairman Mao, dream hampton— barely older than me—were out there creating a new language, one that I intuitively understood, to analyze our art, our world.

This was, in and of itself, an argument for the weight and beauty of our culture and thus of our bodies. And now each day, out on the Yard, I felt this weight and saw this beauty, not just as a matter of theory but also as demonstrable fact.

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What was required was a new story, a new history told through the lens of our struggle. Here was not just our history but the history of the world, weaponized to our noble ends. They had their champions, and somewhere we must have ours. Rogers, and John Jackson—writers central to the canon of our new noble history. Williams himself had taught at Howard. I read him when I was sixteen, and his work offered a grand theory of multi-millennial European plunder.

I read about Queen Nzinga, who ruled in Central Africa in the sixteenth century, resisting the Portuguese. I read about her negotiating with the Dutch. When the Dutch ambassador tried to humiliate her by refusing her a seat, Nzinga had shown her power by ordering one of her advisers to all fours to make a human chair of her body.

That was the kind of power I sought, and the story of our own royalty became for me a weapon. My working theory then held all black people as kings in exile, a nation of original men severed from our original names and our majestic Nubian culture. Surely this was the message I took from gazing out on the Yard. Had any people, anywhere, ever been as sprawling and beautiful as us?

I needed more books. At Howard University, one of the greatest collections of books could be found in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, where your grandfather once worked.

Moorland held archives, papers, collections, and virtually any book ever written by or about black people. For the most significant portion of my time at The Mecca, I followed a simple ritual.

I would walk into the Moorland reading room and fill out three call slips for three different works. I would take a seat at one of these long tables. I would draw out my pen and one of my black-and-white composition books. I would open the books and read, while filling my composition books with notes on my reading, new vocabulary words, and sentences of my own invention.

I would arrive in the morning and request, three call slips at a time, the works of every writer I had heard spoken of in classrooms or out on the Yard: And if the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs were alive today, would they live in Harlem? I had to inhale all the pages. I went into this investigation imagining history to be a unified narrative, free of debate, which, once uncovered, would simply verify everything I had always suspected.

The smokescreen would lift. And the villains who manipulated the schools and the streets would be unmasked. But there was so much to know—so much geography to cover—Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, the United States. And all of these areas had histories, sprawling literary canons, fieldwork, ethnographies.

Where should I begin? The trouble came almost immediately. I did not find a coherent tradition marching lockstep but instead factions, and factions within factions. I felt myself at the bridge of a great ship that I could not control because C. James was a great wave and Basil Davidson was a swirling eddy, tossing me about. Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another. Had we retained any of our African inheritance? Frazier says it was all destroyed, and this destruction evidences the terribleness of our capturers.

Herskovitz says it lives on, and this evidences the resilience of our African spirit. Perhaps they were somehow both right. I had come looking for a parade, for a military review of champions marching in ranks.

Instead I was left with a brawl of ancestors, a herd of dissenters, sometimes marching together but just as often marching away from each other. I would take breaks from my reading, walk out to the vendors who lined the streets, eat lunch on the Yard. I would imagine Malcolm, his body bound in a cell, studying the books, trading his human eyes for the power of flight.

And I too felt bound by my ignorance, by the questions that I had not yet understood to be more than just means, by my lack of understanding, and by Howard itself. It was still a school, after all. I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors.

Between the World and Me

The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.

The best parts of Malcolm pointed the way. Malcolm, always changing, always evolving toward some truth that was ultimately outside the boundaries of his life, of his body. I felt myself in motion, still directed toward the total possession of my body, but by some other route which I could not before then have imagined.

I was not searching alone. I met your uncle Ben at The Mecca. He was, like me, from one of those cities where everyday life was so different than the Dream that it demanded an explanation. He came, like me, to The Mecca in search of the nature and origin of the breach. I shared with him a healthy skepticism and a deep belief that we could somehow read our way out. And somehow even this was part of the search— the physical beauty of the black body was all our beauty, historical and cultural, incarnate.

Your uncle Ben became a fellow traveler for life, and I discovered that there was something particular about journeying out with black people who knew the length of the road because they had traveled it too. I would walk out into the city and find other searchers at lectures, book signings, and poetry readings.

I was still writing bad poetry. All of these poets were older and wiser than me, and many of them were well read, and they brought this wisdom to bear on me and my work. What did I mean, specifically, by the loss of my body? And if every black body was precious, a one of one, if Malcolm was correct and you must preserve your life, how could I see these precious lives as simply a collective mass, as the amorphous residue of plunder? How could I privilege the spectrum of dark energy over each particular ray of light?

These were notes on how to write, and thus notes on how to think. The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.

And it became clear that this was not just for the dreams concocted by Americans to justify themselves but also for the dreams that I had conjured to replace them. I had thought that I must mirror the outside world, create a carbon copy of white claims to civilization. It was beginning to occur to me to question the logic of the claim itself.

I had forgotten my own self-interrogations pushed upon me by my mother, or rather I had not yet apprehended their deeper, lifelong meaning. The art I was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question. It is important that I tell you their names, that you know that I have never achieved anything alone.

Hayden imagined the enslaved, during the Middle Passage, from the perspective of the enslavers—a mind-trip for me, in and of itself; why should the enslaver be allowed to speak? They conjured: You cannot stare that hatred down or chain the fear that stalks the watches I was not in any slave ship.

And that was what I heard in Malcolm, but never like this—quiet, pure, and unadorned. I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago—the craft of writing as the art of thinking.

Poetry aims for an economy of truth—loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions—beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

These truths I heard in the works of other poets around the city. They were made of small hard things—aunts and uncles, smoke breaks after sex, girls on stoops drinking from mason jars. These truths carried the black body beyond slogans and gave it color and texture and thus reflected the spectrum I saw out on the Yard more than all of my alliterative talk of guns or revolutions or paeans to the lost dynasties of African antiquity.

I was learning to live in the disquiet I felt in Moorland-Spingarn, in the mess of my mind. The gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon. It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own especial Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness.

And there was so much terrible out there, even among us. You must understand this. Back then, I knew, for instance, that just outside of Washington, D. They were black people who elected their own politicians, but these politicians, I learned, superintended a police force as vicious as any in America. I had heard stories about PG County from the same poets who opened my world. These poets assured me that the PG County police were not police at all but privateers, gangsters, gunmen, plunderers operating under the color of law.

They told me this because they wanted to protect my body. But there was another lesson here: To be black and beautiful was not a matter for gloating. And you have no need of dispatches because you have seen so much of the American galaxy and its inhabitants —their homes, their hobbies—up close.

You still believe the injustice was Michael Brown. You have not yet grappled with your own myths and narratives and discovered the plunder everywhere around us. The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions, and every incorrect answer risks a beat-down, a shooting, or a pregnancy.

No one survives unscathed. Of course we chose nothing. We did not design the streets. We do not fund them. We do not preserve them. But I was there, nevertheless, charged like all the others with the protection of my body. The crews walked the blocks of their neighborhood, loud and rude, because it was only through their loud rudeness that they might feel any sense of security and power.

And their wild reveling, their astonishing acts made their names ring out. Reps were made, atrocities recounted. In that fashion, the security of these neighborhoods flowed downward and became the security of the bodies living there.

I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather. I think of this as a great difference between us. You have some acquaintance with the old rules, but they are not as essential to you as they were to me. I do not long for those days. I think I was always, somehow, aware of the price. I think I felt that something out there, some force, nameless and vast, had robbed me of…what?

You have seen all the wonderful life up above the tree-line, yet you understand that there is no real distance between you and Trayvon Martin, and thus Trayvon Martin must terrify you in a way that he could never terrify me. You have seen so much more of all that is lost when they destroy your body. If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left.

Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later. I suffered at the hands of both, but I resent the schools more.

You rolled with a posse to the party as sure as you wore boots in the snow, or raised an umbrella in the rain. And what precisely did this have to do with an education rendered as rote discipline? To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly. Educated children never offered excuses—certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls.

How could the schools? All of it felt so distant to me. I did not know any French people, and nothing around me suggested I ever would. France was a rock rotating in another galaxy, around another sun, in another sky that I would never cross. Why, precisely, was I sitting in this classroom?

I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance. I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them. Why—for us and only us—is the other side of free will and free spirits an assault upon our bodies?

This is not a hyperbolic concern. When our elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing. This should disgrace the country. Perhaps they must be burned away so that the heart of this thing might be known. Unfit for the schools, and in good measure wanting to be unfit for them, and lacking the savvy I needed to master the streets, I felt there could be no escape for me or, honestly, anyone else.

Some of them stood outside liquor stores waiting on a few dollars for a bottle. We could not get out. The ground we walked was trip-wired. The air we breathed was toxic. The water stunted our growth. A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth- grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body.

I was a capable boy, intelligent, well-liked, but powerfully afraid. And I felt, vaguely, wordlessly, that for a child to be marked off for such a life, to be forced to live in fear was a great injustice. And what was the source of this fear? What was hiding behind the smoke screen of streets and schools?

I could not retreat, as did so many, into the church and its mysteries. We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems.

We would not kneel before their God. And so I had no sense that any just God was on my side. My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box. Fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the Dream out there, to the unworried boys, to pie and pot roast, to the white fences and green lawns nightly beamed into our television sets.

But how? Religion could not tell me. The streets could not help me see beyond the scramble of each day. And I was such a curious boy. I was raised that way. Your grandmother taught me to read when I was only four.

When I was in trouble at school which was quite often she would make me write about it. The writing had to answer a series of questions: Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher? Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect? What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson?

I have given you these same assignments. Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing—myself. Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent. My impulses were not filled with unfailing virtue. If I was not innocent, then they were not innocent. Could this mix of motivation also affect the stories they tell? The cities they built? The country they claimed as given to them by God?

Now the questions began burning in me. He was then working at Howard University as a research librarian in the Moorland- Spingarn Research Center, one of the largest collections of Africana in the world.

Dad had been a local captain in the Black Panther Party. The guns seemed to address this country, which invented the streets that secured them with despotic police, in its primary language— violence.

Every February my classmates and I were herded into assemblies for a ritual review of the Civil Rights Movement. The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life—love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the fire-hoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets.

Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality. The world, the real one, was civilization secured and ruled by savage means.

How could the schools valorize men and women whose values society actively scorned? One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. And I began to see these two arms in relation—those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets.

Forget about intentions. Our world is physical. Learn to play defense—ignore the head and keep your eyes on the body.

Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. It felt wrong not to ask why, and then to ask it again. I took these questions to my father, who very often refused to offer an answer, and instead referred me to more books.

My mother and father were always pushing me away from secondhand answers—even the answers they themselves believed.

But every time I ask it, the question is refined. Some things were clear to me: But what exactly was the design? And why? I must know. I must get out…but into what?

I devoured the books because they were the rays of light peeking out from the doorframe, and perhaps past that door there was another world, one beyond the gripping fear that undergirded the Dream. In this blooming consciousness, in this period of intense questioning, I was not alone. Seeds planted in the s, forgotten by so many, sprung up from the ground and bore fruit.

Hip-hop artists quoted him in lyrics, cut his speeches across the breaks, or flashed his likeness in their videos. The portrait communicated everything I wanted to be—controlled, intelligent, and beyond the fear.

Here was all the angst I felt before the heroes of February, distilled and quotable. You do not give your precious body to the billy clubs of Birmingham sheriffs nor to the insidious gravity of the streets. We are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder.

I loved him because he made it plain, never mystical or esoteric, because his science was not rooted in the actions of spooks and mystery gods but in the work of the physical world. He was unconcerned with making the people who believed they were white comfortable in their belief. If he was angry, he said so. If he hated, he hated because it was human for the enslaved to hate the enslaver, natural as Prometheus hating the birds.

He would not turn the other cheek for you. He would not be your morality. Malcolm spoke like a man who was free, like a black man above the laws that proscribed our imagination. I identified with him.

I knew that he had chafed against the schools, that he had almost been doomed by the streets. Perhaps I too might live free. Perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X, and speak—no, act—as though my body were my own.

Perhaps I might write something of consequence someday. I had been reading and writing beyond the purview of the schools all my life. Already I was scribbling down bad rap lyrics and bad poetry. The missing thing was related to the plunder of our bodies, the fact that any claim to ourselves, to the hands that secured us, the spine that braced us, and the head that directed us, was contestable.

This was two years before the Million Man March. I was haunted by the bodily sacrifice of Malcolm, by Attica and Stokely. Perhaps we should go back.

Perhaps we should return to Mecca. You say that you hear me, that you understand, but I am not so sure that the force of my Mecca—The Mecca—can be translated into your new and eclectic tongue.

I am not even sure that it should be. My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.

And still, I maintain that even for a cosmopolitan boy like you, there is something to be found there—a base, even in these modern times, a port in the American storm. Surely I am biased by nostalgia and tradition. Your grandfather worked at Howard. I met your mother there, your uncle Ben, your aunt Kamilah and aunt Chana. I was admitted to Howard University, but formed and shaped by The Mecca. These institutions are related but not the same.

The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body. And whereas most other historically black schools were scattered like forts in the great wilderness of the old Confederacy, Howard was in Washington, D.

The history, the location, the alumni combined to create The Mecca—the crossroads of the black diaspora. There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt. There were Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses. And overlaying all of this was the history of Howard itself. The Mecca— the vastness of black people across space-time— could be experienced in a twenty-minute walk across campus. I saw this vastness in the students chopping it up in front of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, where Muhammad Ali had addressed their fathers and mothers in defiance of the Vietnam War.

Some of them came up from Tubman Quadrangle with their roommates and rope for Double Dutch. Some of the girls sat by the flagpole with bell hooks and Sonia Sanchez in their straw totes. Some of the boys, with their new Yoruba names, beseeched these girls by citing Frantz Fanon. Some of them studied Russian. Some of them worked in bone labs. They were Panamanian. They were Bajan. And some of them were from places I had never heard of.

But all of them were hot and incredible, exotic even, though we hailed from the same tribe. Sometimes this power is direct lynching , and sometimes it is insidious redlining. There will surely always be people with straight hair and blue eyes, as there have been for all history. They were imposed on us by Virginia planters obsessed with enslaving as many Americans as possible.

Through The Mecca I saw that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself. This was why your grandparents banned Tarzan and the Lone Ranger and toys with white faces from the house. Serious history was the West, and the West was white. This was all distilled for me in a quote I once read from the novelist Saul Bellow. We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization.

And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use? Contrary to this theory, I had Malcolm. I had my mother and father. I read them not merely because I loved black music—I did—but because of the writing itself. This was, in and of itself, an argument for the weight and beauty of our culture and thus of our bodies. And now each day, out on the Yard, I felt this weight and saw this beauty, not just as a matter of theory but also as demonstrable fact.

What was required was a new story, a new history told through the lens of our struggle. They had their champions, and somewhere we must have ours. Rogers, and John Jackson —writers central to the canon of our new noble history. Williams himself had taught at Howard. The theory relieved me of certain troubling questions—this is the point of nationalism— and it gave me my Tolstoy. I read about Queen Nzinga, who ruled in Central Africa in the sixteenth century, resisting the Portuguese.

When the Dutch ambassador tried to humiliate her by refusing her a seat, Nzinga had shown her power by ordering one of her advisers to all fours to make a human chair of her body. That was the kind of power I sought, and the story of our own royalty became for me a weapon. Surely this was the message I took from gazing out on the Yard. Had any people, anywhere, ever been as sprawling and beautiful as us? I needed more books. Moorland held archives, papers, collections, and virtually any book ever written by or about black people.

For the most significant portion of my time at The Mecca, I followed a simple ritual. I would take a seat at one of these long tables. I would draw out my pen and one of my black-and-white composition books. I would arrive in the morning and request, three call slips at a time, the works of every writer I had heard spoken of in classrooms or out on the Yard: I had to inhale all the pages.

I went into this investigation imagining history to be a unified narrative, free of debate, which, once uncovered, would simply verify everything I had always suspected. The smokescreen would lift. And the villains who manipulated the schools and the streets would be unmasked.

But there was so much to know—so much geography to cover— Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, the United States. And all of these areas had histories, sprawling literary canons, fieldwork, ethnographies.

Where should I begin? The trouble came almost immediately. I did not find a coherent tradition marching lockstep but instead factions, and factions within factions. I felt myself at the bridge of a great ship that I could not control because C.

James was a great wave and Basil Davidson was a swirling eddy, tossing me about. Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another. Had we retained any of our African inheritance? Herskovitz says it lives on, and this evidences the resilience of our African spirit. I had come looking for a parade, for a military review of champions marching in ranks.

Instead I was left with a brawl of ancestors, a herd of dissenters, sometimes marching together but just as often marching away from each other. I would imagine Malcolm, his body bound in a cell, studying the books, trading his human eyes for the power of flight. It was still a school, after all. I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors. I was made for the library, not the classroom.

The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself. The best parts of Malcolm pointed the way. I felt myself in motion, still directed toward the total possession of my body, but by some other route which I could not before then have imagined.

I was not searching alone. I met your uncle Ben at The Mecca. He came, like me, to The Mecca in search of the nature and origin of the breach. I shared with him a healthy skepticism and a deep belief that we could somehow read our way out. And somehow even this was part of the search—the physical beauty of the black body was all our beauty, historical and cultural, incarnate.

I would walk out into the city and find other searchers at lectures, book signings, and poetry readings. I was still writing bad poetry. All of these poets were older and wiser than me, and many of them were well read, and they brought this wisdom to bear on me and my work. What did I mean, specifically, by the loss of my body?

How could I privilege the spectrum of dark energy over each particular ray of light? These were notes on how to write, and thus notes on how to think.

The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing. I had thought that I must mirror the outside world, create a carbon copy of white claims to civilization. It was beginning to occur to me to question the logic of the claim itself. The art I was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question. Hayden imagined the enslaved, during the Middle Passage, from the perspective of the enslavers—a mind-trip for me, in and of itself; why should the enslaver be allowed to speak?

They conjured: You cannot stare that hatred down or chain the fear that stalks the watches I was not in any slave ship. I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago—the craft of writing as the art of thinking.

Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions—beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations.

These truths I heard in the works of other poets around the city. They were made of small hard things —aunts and uncles, smoke breaks after sex, girls on stoops drinking from mason jars. I was learning to live in the disquiet I felt in Moorland- Spingarn, in the mess of my mind. It was a beacon. And there was so much terrible out there, even among us. You must understand this. Back then, I knew, for instance, that just outside of Washington, D.

I had heard stories about PG County from the same poets who opened my world. These poets assured me that the PG County police were not police at all but privateers, gangsters, gunmen, plunderers operating under the color of law. They told me this because they wanted to protect my body. But there was another lesson here: To be black and beautiful was not a matter for gloating.

Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own. I began to feel that something more than a national trophy case was needed if I was to be truly free, and for that I have the history department of Howard University to thank. Indeed, they felt it their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history. They had seen so many Malcolmites before and were ready.

Their method was rough and direct. Victims of a trick. Would those be the same black kings who birthed all of civilization? Were they then both deposed masters of the galaxy and gullible puppets all at once? You know, black. Did I think this a timeless category stretching into the deep past? Could it be supposed that simply because color was important to me, it had always been so?

I remember taking a survey class focusing on Central Africa. There was nothing romantic about her Africa, or rather, there was nothing romantic in the sense that I conceived of it. I took a survey of Europe post What was the difference? Perhaps there had been other bodies, mocked, terrorized, and insecure. Perhaps the Irish too had once lost their bodies. This heap of realizations was a weight. I found them physically painful and exhausting.

But in those early moments, the unceasing contradictions sent me into a gloom. There was nothing holy or particular in my skin; I was black because of history and heritage.

There was no nobility in falling, in being bound, in living oppressed, and there was no inherent meaning in black blood. But not all of us. In fact, Bellow was no closer to Tolstoy than I was to Nzinga. And still and all I knew that we were something, that we were a tribe—on one hand, invented, and on the other, no less real.

I remember those days like an OutKast song, painted in lust and joy. A baldhead in shades and a tank top stands across from Blackburn, the student center, with a long boa draping his muscular shoulders. I am standing outside the library debating the Republican takeover of Congress or the place of Wu-Tang Clan in the canon.

Because we have all we need out on the Yard. We are dazed here because we still remember the hot cities in which we were born, where the first days of spring were laced with fear. These were my first days of adulthood, of living alone, of cooking for myself, of going and coming as I pleased, of my own room, of the chance of returning there, perhaps, with one of those beautiful women who were now everywhere around me.

I remember her large brown eyes, her broad mouth and cool voice. Her father was from Bangalore, and where was that? And what were the laws out there?

I did not yet understand the import of my own questions. What I remember is my ignorance. I remember watching her eat with her hands and feeling wholly uncivilized with my fork.

I remember her going to India for spring break and returning with a bindi on her head and photos of her smiling Indian cousins. But her beauty and stillness broke the balance in me.

How many awful poems did I write thinking of her? I know now what she was to me—the first glimpse of a space-bridge, a wormhole, a galactic portal off this bound and blind planet. I fell again, a short time later and in similar fashion, for another girl, tall with long flowing dreadlocks. I was amazed. This was something black people did? And they did so much more.

The Howard professor slept with men. His wife slept with women. And the two of them slept with each other. They had a little boy who must be off to college by now. I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man.

We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.

But my tribe was shattering and reforming around me. Their ordinary moments— answering the door, cooking in the kitchen, dancing to Adina Howard —assaulted me and expanded my notion of the human spectrum. She taught me to love in new ways. In my old house your grandparents ruled with the fearsome rod.

Here is how it started: I woke up one morning with a minor headache. With each hour the headache grew. I was walking to my job when I saw this girl on her way to class.

By mid- afternoon I could barely stand. I called my supervisor.

When he arrived I lay down in the stockroom, because I had no idea what else to do. I was afraid. I did not understand what was happening. I did not know whom to call. I was lying there simmering, half- awake, hoping to recover. My supervisor knocked on the door. Full Name Comment goes here. Are you sure you want to Yes No. Be the first to like this. No Downloads. Views Total views.

Actions Shares. Embeds 0 No embeds. No notes for slide. Between the World and Me to download this book the link is on the last page 2. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?

And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward. Book Details Author:

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