Healing

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the past for a better future

The Water Dancer, a novel with qualities of historical fiction and magical realism by Ta-Nehisi Coates, had been on my Books To Read list for a while. When I finally got to it (I listened to the audiobook) I thought it was brilliant.

The novel is a story about family and freedom told in the context of slavery.

The main character, Hiram, is both the property and the son of Howell Walker, the man whom he calls “Father.” Hiram works as servant to his brother, Maynard.

Hiram is smart and a gifted storyteller with an extraordinary memory. He remembers everything he sees and hears. But he cannot bring forth the full and clear memory he most desires, that of his mother, the “Water Dancer.” His father sold her away when he was about 5. 

He discovers he has another power called conduction and eventually works in the Underground Railroad with the woman known as Moses.  

Hiram’s experiences help him gain perspective and understanding. He witnesses family, belonging, obligation, freedom, justice, and love in action.

The Water Dancer is a great book and I was eager to explore more of the author’s work.

A letter to his son

Between the World and Me is a narrative to his teenage son after the news that police officers will not face charges for the death of a black man in their custody.

The author imparts his hopes and dreams for his son. He speaks of the challenge he will face to protect his body in a society that proves again and again it does not value his body. 

He shares his own experience growing up in the rough streets of Baltimore and of attending Howard University. Of broadening his perspective as he traveled the country and to Europe. 

The author’s deep desire to protect his son comes through clearly.

Also clear is his realization all parents must accept, that his child will have to find his own way.   

A case for righting past wrongs

His article, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic magazine June 2014 issue.

It’s a long essay that addresses systemic racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining housing practices and unjust incarceration. Coates makes a compelling case for reaparations in order for America to end the pain of racial divisions. He does not propose exactly what amount or form of “reparations” would be adequate, but he does address bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. 

The author says of the Commission: 

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.  

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, accessed on theatlantic.com 6/11/2020.

Impacting future leaders

The final Ta-Nehisi Coates item is his guest lecture to the West Point Corps of Cadets in 2017. 

But whether you agree with him a hundred-percent or not, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deep thinker. His ideas provoke thought and consideration on difficult subjects, like justice, race, American history, and leadership. 

I highly recommend you read or listen to his work. At the very least, he will give you something to think about.

Go to Ta-Nehisicoates.com to learn more.