I just finished reading Ta Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me. I wanted to read it immediately after hearing Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with the author. It is beautifully written, complicated, thought-provoking and troubling. I suspect that indeed was part of the intent Coates set out with when writing this open letter to his son.
I have to say that while I devoured this quickly, I have a guilty feeling about myself and my society. You see I live in the relative isolation of Vermont where there is little cultural diversity and as my brother would say, I was able to get away from it all up here.
I don’t think I and my family have gotten ‘away from it all’ in Vermont but there is a relative space here compared to growing up in a great Jersey Shore town. The total population of Vermont is about that of the county I grew up in.
My take is that there is much less societal pressure living in Vermont and rurally than living New Jersey or the big cities – less people, no billboards, dark skies at night, no traffic to speak of, space, quiet, nature, etc. That’s good, right? Wouldn’t everyone want to have that opportunity?
The answer might be yes, but the more realistic answer is that not everyone would have the opportunity. Oh I know that everyone can strive to be what they want to be, get to where they want their station in life, blah, blah, blah. I mostly have, so if I could why not everyone? On some level everyone can and we’ve all seen examples where coming from the worst of environments and living situations, people excel. However ,the odds are against us when we have little to none of the advantages of community support, liveable wages, mentorship and leadership, structure in the communities we live in and people in our midst who guide us, almost every day to grow, take appropriate challenges, fail and recover, and then take on these roles to pay it forward.
I encourage you all to consider reading this book, which I consider revelatory.