"When I was your age, each day, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which to say, I practiced the culture of the streets. [...] I do not long for those days. I think I somehow knew that that third of my brain should have been concerned with more beautiful things. I think I felt that something out there [...] had robbed me of... what?"
The other evening I rode my bike home from work. It was a little later than usual, so I was paying close attention to cars and bumps in the road that might sneak up on me in the darkness. The sun was setting and the cold, winter, LA sky, glowed brilliant shades of red and orange against bright and blue darkening to navy. Every time I looked up, I was met with a different version of this beauty and tried to smile in appreciation. I also couldn't help but think about Coates and the protection of the body which I relate to as a woman, a small woman, and a small woman riding through LA traffic. Yet I still do not know what it is to hold the fear of violence as a black man in America like Coates describes. When I was young I walked home from school musing red cinder on asphalt or juniper pollen or ice under mostly blue skies. I recognize this privilege and hope more of America will pick up this important and timely book to explore how our experiences connect and differ.
As part of the #ReadDiversLit challenge, this counts as a memoir or biography by a diverse author. This category has so many titles I love to read (and write) so here are a few books I recommend if you're looking to fulfill this part of the challenge:
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje: A nontraditional, beautifully rendered memoir of the author's family in Sri Lanka.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: The unique structure of this memoir beautifully and brutally sheds light on the violence of growing up poor, black, and male in the American South.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Essays on pop culture and feminism from an intelligent Black voice.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: Coates' letter to his son brought me right to Baldwin's letter to his nephew from this work.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Alex Haley and Malcolm X: This book was my introduction to the Civil Rights movement beyond Martin Luther King Jr.
Through Eyes Like Mine and Overdue Apologies by Noriko Nakada: The story my early childhood and middle school years from a multi-racial perspective.
Oh, and on my list to read in this category: Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles M. Blow