Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane

Between the World and Me

I’ve been wondering what to say about this book. So much rightful praise has been written elsewhere, and there’s no need to repeat it.

I think what has stuck with me the most is the silence the book has prompted in me. Whatever else it does, this book drives a wedge between “race” and “racism,” forcing me to confront how different these two things are. “Race” is often a polite dodge. It enables talk, usually about black people, but misses the point. “Racism” names a problem to be confronted and makes the conversation about white people and concrete problems, which is a step forward.

Reading Coates’s book after a year spent reading antebellum history and literature situates its indictment of contemporary racism as a coherent piece of a two hundred year (and longer) history of racism in America. I remember of how little I knew about that history when I started reading and how much of what I didn’t know was purposeful—I was a product of my schooling—and I despair because after all this time (or perhaps because of it) I don’t think we know how to have a conversation about racism. I certainly know I struggle to confront or get past or ignore my anxieties and start one. But if we can’t even talk, how do we change things?

…then I read about members of the Supreme Court still wondering aloud if black students are ready for or benefit from a full-speed college experience and think, the bad old days haven’t gone anywhere.

Posted December 8, 2015