These days the water fountain at the mall doubles as a mini water park offering a fun refreshing activity for kids who endure their parents’ shopping excursions. In the photo below you can see my son, Justice, and my nephew, Ethan, doing what kids do. The boys seem like bundles of sheer innocence and energy with all of the running, laughing and joyful screaming. Innocence… that’s the word. For boys like them innocence doesn’t last as long as it should. As a father and an uncle, I’ve had to infringe upon their innocence early in their lives by making them aware that some people will view them differently. For this reason we’ve been teaching them that they need to walk a certain way, talk a certain way, and behave a certain way. Not because they’re special and we want them to stand out; but because they will be viewed as dangerous and expendable so we want others to feel safe enough to stand down. At some point, their lives will likely depend on it. As far as I can tell this experience is unique to Black people in the United States.
In Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates artfully captures the angst that a Black father feels while delivering this survival training to our children; specifically our sons. We begin their lessons early and weave them into the very fabric of their lives from the time that they are toddlers. This instruction is peppered with our own experiences so, many of us struggle to balance the lessons. It’s an attempt to try not to transfer our own limitations to the boys. Coates’ approach is uncompromising at first yet he still achieves some balance. He clearly wants his son to be great; but most of all he wants him to live. He eloquently and passionately articulates his message in the form of what could be characterized as a loving letter to his 15-year-old son. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Coates himself. It flows like poetry as he recalls the situations, people, and places that mark his life experience. Coates eloquently relates a conversation that all Black fathers should have with their sons. If you are already aware of this experience you will be validated. If you are not, then you will be changed. Everyone should read this book.