Try as you might, it is not possible to understand another person’s experience, especially if that person is very different from you – different gender, different culture, or from a different region.
Using the literary tactic of writing a book length letter to his son Mr. Coates pours out his life experiences and thoughts. It is thick with personal emotion. I wish to write in such heartfelt manner. Everyone should read it. You may not agree with his thoughts. You may disapprove, or disbelieve, or find various fault, though you will gain some insight into the plight and struggle of the African-American.
I moved to the south as a child. I did not understand the fascination with the Rebel back then, and still do not. Even after fifty years, I still feel like an outsider in a delusional land, though I must admit the entire country is deluded. I have tried in my feeble way to glimpse the everyday struggle of the African-American. I feel their cries. I see their stoic response to repressive pressure. Mr. Coates gave me another glimpse into their unique situation. I know now I cannot understand, not truly. I cannot live in another person’s skin or even walk a mile in his or her moccasins. It is simply not possible. However, in trying to understand I can empathize.
This country was built on slavery and continues through the dominance of one group over others. You may disagree with that statement, but it is difficult to dispute. It was built on the premise that one tribe, a group of pale-skinned folk from other lands, possessed some holy right to dominate others. The white tribe forced the red tribe to live in designated, isolated spots, or slaughtered them. The white tribe forced members of the brown tribe into crates, shipped them like cattle, sold them like products, whipped, beat, and raped them into forced labor, or butchered them for sport.
Some have worked so hard over the years to soften the cruelty of that unnatural dominance that many cannot imagine the true depth of that brutality. I have heard people suggest that the slaves had it good. In a feeble effort to conceal the sins, they roll the past up in a pasty lie. Why would a person work in the hot Carolina sun all day long for nothing more than a few meals, rags for clothes, and a shanty to share with 10 or 15 other folk? Why not simply refuse and walk away? Because the country, the law, allowed the pale-skinned people to flog at will, to rend off a person’s flesh, to rape at a whim, to beat, chain, harass, and even kill without so much as a scolding. It had to be done regularly enough, weekly, perhaps daily, to make sure the remainder understood. More often than not, the mistreatment was met with a nod of approval. Gotta keep ‘em in line, Mr. Calhoun.
Once official slavery ended, a new form began. Segregation, redline them, ghetto them, isolate them and demonize them. Call them Negro, call them black like the scary dark of night, while the pale-skinned tribe call themselves white as if they are some shining light. The truth is the black are brown and the white are merely less brown. The idea that one tribe can dominate the bodies of another tribe is the worst of humanity because of its utter lack of being humane. That is how this country was built and how it is maintained, with official winks and nods to the official blue as they threaten to light up Sandy Bland, or Eric, or Michael, or countless others. If that is not enough, McCain sings, “Bomb, bomb, bomb,” and pale-skinned senators scoff at Obama’s attempt at diplomacy suggesting we should smother the brown folk of Iran or starve out the brown folk of Cuba.
Read the book. You do not have to agree with it. I believe you will like it, or at least learn from it.