Review: The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Beautiful Struggle
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

#ReadingIsResistance to racism, and economic inequality.

Title: The Beautiful Struggle
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published: 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385527460
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

What’s Auntie Reading Now picture

To be a black male is to be always at war …. because … we are met by the assumption of violence, by the specter of who we might turn on next.  (p192)

This is the last #ReadingIsResistance book for January’s theme of social and economic justice.  It seems appropriate to end the month with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It’s hard to know how approach this book.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ experience is so far from mine, I just as well be from another country.

His memoir of life in Baltimore is  colloquially written, exploring family life and growing up in a confusing family dynamic, in neighborhoods where the danger was palpable.  His father had children by several women, and their lives wove in and out of each other’s in ways different from what one would expect.  My life has taught me that family is who you chose, blood or no, and the family dynamic doesn’t follow a proscribed route.

Coates was surrounded by his father’s books from the Black Panther black power movement and historical treatises teaching the Knowledge of being black in America.  His parents’ world was just as fraught with peril too, and Coates was meant to learn that and apply it to his own everyday survival.

My default position was sprawled across the bed staring at the ceiling or cataloging an extensive collection of X-Factor comic books.  This never cut it for Dad, who insisted I learn the wavelengths of my world.  In the quiet chaos of my room, everything was certain. (p. 51)

That, I can relate to.  It wasn’t comic books, I didn’t know those existed in a form other than the Archie and Jughead comics available in the check-out line at the grocery store.  But I was surrounded by books, and paper for writing was always available.  My parents didn’t insist I go out and play.  I stayed in my room and read voraciously.  There was no wavelength of the community to pick up on.

But I lived in small-town America during my formative years, not the teeming, crowded life of Baltimore.  My family life was unstable, but I was never forced to learn the history of anything other than what I was taught in school and the books I chose to read.

In some ways, I envy Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upbringing.  It was unsafe, unpredictable, and hard but he had someone who made sure he was taught about the Knowledge and the things which were important to know about surviving in his world.

But envy is a useless emotion, especially when taken in the context of this:

The most ordinary thing – the walk to school, a bike ride around the block, a trip to the supermarket – could just go wrong. (p. 55)

A white girl couldn’t possibly know, much less understand, what it was like to be unsafe just by walking out the door.  I couldn’t possibly have known why belonging to a gang of some sort was often the only option for survival.  “The streets” meant nothing to me other than something cars drove on.

I can only thank Ta-Nehisi Coates for sharing his life so honestly.  For opening himself up so I could get a glimpse of what it means to be something other than what I am.  He has given me insight which grounds my liberal tendencies in something other than the theoretical.  He is the story teller I would most love to sit and ask questions of as I learn what his world is like.

There is no way I can give a comprehensive review of The Beautiful Struggle.  What I can say is that I understand the meaning of the beautiful struggle as it applies to my own life and the evolution of my self, and world.  I know every one of us has a beautiful struggle going on.

I encourage you to read Ta-Nehisi Coates and open yourself to the deeply personal way in which he writes about being black, male, and in America.  His is important work, and must continue to be disseminated, especially in the turbulent times we find ourselves in under the Trump administration.

Thank you Mr. Coates, thank you.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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