Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the black experience in America with clear, compelling prose. Here are small excerpts from “Letter to My Son,” published in The Atlantic. These two quotes are designed to persuade you read the whole article. Better yet, get the upcoming book from which this is adapted, Between the World and Me. Critics are favorably comparing his work to that of James Baldwin.
It had to be blood. It had to be the thrashing of kitchen hands for the crime of churning butter at a leisurely clip. It had to be some woman “chear’d … with thirty lashes a Saturday last and as many more a Tuesday again.” It could only be the employment of carriage whips, tongs, iron pokers, handsaws, stones, paperweights, or whatever might be handy to break the black body, the black family, the black community, the black nation. The bodies were pulverized into stock and marked with insurance. And the bodies were an aspiration, lucrative as Indian land, a veranda, a beautiful wife, or a summer home in the mountains.
The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never redeem this.
When Coates says, “Enslavement was not destined to end,” I know the same is true for the horrors that have continued since emancipation including the ones we see in the news on a regular basis today. Liberty isn’t a destiny, it’s an endless struggle to achieve and maintain.