Recently finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and pondering his perspective of reality and what it means to me. The beauty of reading a book is, if you let it, it can expand your view of the world and your experience. I can travel to Antarctica and vicariously experience the long dark cold winter with the scientists living on isolated outposts. In Between the World and Me Coates takes us on an inward journey to live as a person with dark-hued skin in America.
I have often thought that moving through life as a woman was an approximation of what it is like to be a person of color. It may be on the same spectrum of fear and lack of control or power in society. As a woman, people project all sorts of judgements and assumptions based on my sex, regardless of what I do, say or wear. After reading Coates I realize that being a woman is a 2 or 3 on the spectrum, being gay is probably a 5 or 6 and being black is an 8.
This need to have an group to scapegoat or villify is a chronic problem for humankind. At different times Irish people, Italian people, or Japanese people have been others in our “American Dream”–the one we tell ourselves about who we are as a nation and as a society. Today Mexicans or Muslims fill that role in the story. Unfortunately for black people and for our nation as a whole, they have been a constant “them” in the us vs. them since our country began: first as slaves, then as expendable workers and disenfranchised citizens and now as convicts.
I thought of Brian Keenan‘s brilliant book An Evil Cradling. He chronicled his long captivity as a hostage of the conflict in Lebanon. He observed so much about what it means to be human and wisely observed that his jailors were really the captives–captured by an ideology and a false reality. By knowing this he experienced freedom in spite of his chains. I read this book in 1999 after it was recommended in a Dublin pub crawl and it has impacted me profoundly. I thought about it again after reading Between the World and Me and realized that in this drama none of us is free.
By believing in a false reality about the American Dream–one that increasingly does not match the facts or people’s experience and that requires that a large swath of the population be made Other or as Trump likes to say, losers–I am actually a captive too. But I want true freedom. I want to be myself and for every other person to be the person God created them to be regardless of constructs like race or sex or national or religious identity.
I do not think this a Dream: American or Martin Luther King Junior’s or any other kind. What it requires is to awaken. “Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.” (Coates, p 7)
The world you and I live in will not know peace or ecological healing until we find a way to face reality, to accept some sacrifice and suffering, and to feel pain without numbing agents, and to know that we are not special and yet, that each of us is a reflection of the divine.