I received a gift copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, over two years ago. For a number of reasons, I put it aside. What with the number of police shootings of young black men under questionable circumstances, along with the increase in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, I labored under the mistaken assumption that another book about the agony of the black experience in America would only agitate my already agitated mood. Finally, though, I decided to open the covers and see what Coates had to say.
In the form of a letter to his son, Coates, an award-winning New York based journalist and author, talks about his own experiences growing up on the mean streets of an inner city, his exposure to the infinite variety of black life at Howard University, a Mecca for young blacks who wanted to get on the path to upward mobility, to his take on American history from a black perspective.
I was right that the book would be disturbing, but it was not disturbing in a negative way. It s hook me out of my own complacency, and reminded me that every generation of people of color growing up in America has its own memories; its own story to tell.
Every word of this book should be read with care, should be digested, and then passed on to future generations. It is through such sharing of past experiences that we are better able to cope with the turbulent present, and prepare for the unknown future.
Must reading, not just for young black people, but people of all colors and ages, if they truly wish to have a better understanding of who we—Americans—are, and what we can aspire to be.
I give this book a resounding five stars.
Americus, a first novel by Michael Datcher, is a compelling story told on two levels—the first is the story of a black family at the turn of the century that struggles to find and hold a place in society, and come to grips with dealing with each other, while the second is a gripping narrative of race relations in America at the early part of the 20th century.
The main story is about twins, Set and Asara Americus, born seven minutes apart, who both try to win the love and respect of their demanding and hypercritical father, Keb. Part of East St. Louis, Illinois’ black upper class, they experience the trauma of growing up in a family where the demands on them would weigh down the strongest person, alongside the even greater trauma of living in a society where their position is determined more by their skin color than their family’s wealth.
Datcher takes us through their lives from the time of their 10th birthday in 1893, through the turbulence of race riots provoked by the mass migration of blacks from the segregated south to the north where they seek jobs and dignity. In the wake of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, this is a book that digs beneath the slogans and sound bites and takes the reader into the psyches of people who have to endure stereotyping and the constant struggle to live the American dream that for all too many is in reality a nightmare.
You’ll come away from this book with the view that #AllLivesMatter in the end. I give Datcher five stars for his first effort.