Journalist Tanehisi Coates is to young black writers what Steph Curry is to teenage point-guards. Only he uses none of his 6’4” limber frame to drill fade-aways in mere mortals faces. Not one bit of his stature appears threatening, that is, until he opens his mouth, or when his thumb clicks the ballpoint to the tip of his pen. His record of exposing the fractures in race issues in his column with Atlantic Magazine is conflated with ghetto legend and Greek mythology. As a writer myself, who is feeling his own way around the gauntlets of the literary world, Coates is a North Star. He’s proven that young folks like me aren’t crazy, and that America still has the body of racism rotting in it’s closet.
Thursday July 15, 2015 he released his second book, “Between The World and Me”, an extended open letter to his son about maturating through this complex society as a Black boy. The venue was Union Baptist Church and the building was packed like a library the day before midterms, but with less chatter, and ten times more anticipation. If you’re a student of literary art, you knew that in this moment lay something special for the cul-de-sacs of history. Books trap eternal memories and seething truths of civilizations. His reputation forced everyone to see that this particular book would be one that pushed boundaries. So anybody who knew better made sure to be present, to witness the unveiling of a literary Van Gogh. That day, Coates spoke to an audience full of intoxicated admirers.
Every label has been spitballed at the current times: turning point, watershed moment, juncture in the fate of humanity, and many more gasp worthy one liners. After inhaling “Between The World and Me” certain concepts began to reverberate in my mind. What I have come to understand is that Black Millennials now rest in a purgatory of sorts. The future is some what uncertain. Prioritizing these days can get muddy. Like, we see the blatant police executions and brutality meted out everyday via instantaneous communication, but what does the constant flood of horror mean? We’re witnessing a wealth gap that may leave tons of us clinging to a side of the cliff in the money canyon. Private prisons are a 401k stuffer mostly fueled by our bodies, and lastly, college degrees we bartered for transcendence into higher social classes are turning into tissue paper. The statistic that every white family has 85 cents compared to Blacks 5 cents is far too ugly for any of us to look at. Thus, we have been cornered into doing what we always have done since the first slave was was given a stock number aboard merchant ships, resist. I’m not sure what Fannie Lou Hamer or Bob Marley would think about social media and it’s impact on the fight for black dignity in the American republic. Marley may have thought that we bathe too much in the pain. Every retweet of a shooting, non-conviction, live-streamed town-hall panel to discuss our problems keeps us in the know, but also reminds Black Millennials that they’re in an uphill battle. But our moment, now, is absolutely too brief to not struggle earnestly, despite how many fires we have to put out in a generation. We have light-years more ground to make up, but look how far we’ve come.
Between 1963 and 1971 Black leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, and many others were all murdered in cold blood. All were accepted as a “Black Messiah” and were crucified for exhibiting maximum masculinity. With each of their murders fear hardened the hearts of many parents and the will to fight no longer swept over the masses. Roughly 50 years have passed since the aforementioned tragedies, and today #BlackLivesMatter has put the defibrillators directly to the hearts of Black America again. Only this generation is “Messiahless”, armed with nothing but revolutionary spirit and staggering technology. We don’t believe in any mass centralization of leadership, and refuse to busy ourselves with intellectual gladiator matches. And maybe this is what Coates means when he puts his unwavering faith in the inevitability of struggle, that is the mechanisms being an ever-changing thing. Hope, for him is too abstract. Daily toil with the American state and all its ugliness is the best dish we can feast upon. Black Millennials ought to revel in this sobering reality as I forced myself to.
Most of America was curious as to what our purpose would be. What contributions, if any, would we make? How could the crack, mass incarceration and snapchat cohort put a dent in the American state? It’s simple. The narratives, no matter how bleak they may be, lay in our palms. The history resides at our fingertips. The treachery is looped over and over by the second. And it is with these digital footprints, for better or worse, that we leave children for ages to come, innumerable bytes of pictures, stories, video, audio, tweets, etc. that express the significance of this chapter.
The “Dream” as Coates puts it, I believe, is backed the ability to control who gets to omit what they want out of history. Current battles over what the confederate flag and the true reason for the Civil War expose the cemented miseducation of innocent American children. Should white America continue to believe in its fireside fallacies, of a “Birthed Nation” through grit and thrift, this passage through time will show their inability to obtain the information that stood the chance of freeing them from their prisons of ignorance. Unless the internet completely wipes itself, we will have left the most complete archive of struggle our people have ever inherited on this continent, and it will be those who come after, who will never again be able to be wholesaled lies. Maybe that is the reason for this generations existence, to struggle, but more importantly to use the available advances in evolution to document it, like never before. This is why we are going to be ok.