Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Fire Next Time

Do you ever get the feeling that you should enjoy a book more than you do? That you know that the book is important, a bestseller, widely regarded, critically acclaimed, but you just don't get it? Do you struggle along nonetheless confused as to why it just doesn't gel with you?

This happened to me while reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me (2015). I didn't enjoy it, but I was determined to finish, hoping that I would suddenly find myself engrossed. While this never happened for me, I do appreciate the beauty of Coates' writing and the passion with which he expresses himself.

This National Book Award Winner is essentially a series of essays written to Coates' teenaged son. In these essays he writes about race in America and how history has shaped the way in which African Americans are seen and how they see themselves. There are parallels to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1962) and Baldwin's writings more broadly.

Coates' poetic letter to his son is timely. In the wake of countless shootings of black youth, uprisings across America in response to police violence, and the Black Lives Matter campaign, he presents a thoughtful critique. He shares what it was like to grow up on the streets of Baltimore, to attend Howard University, and to witness violence - particularly the murder, by police, of his friend Prince Jones.

I am not the target market for this book. It is not written to me or for me. But I am interested in issues of race, class and gender and I hoped that reading this book would provide insight into race in modern America and a way forward. Instead I found it rather pessimistic, as if America is on a path that cannot be changed.