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152 pages, Hardcover
First published July 14, 2015
Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could order the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.But this book is more than its bleakness; although it is never hopeful, it is earnest, honest, and aware. Coates describes his odyssey from the narrow streets of Baltimore, to the black “Mecca” of Howard University, to the diverse neighborhoods of NYC, and to his encounter with a profoundly different culture on the boulevards of Paris. He welcomes his increasingly wide world with open eyes (if not always open arms), and his encounters with it deepen—although they do not substantially alter—his perceptions of blackness or the toxic nature of the Dream.
Once, the Dream's parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And the revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.
Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others...Discussing White Privilege is not about discrediting someone’s shortcomings or problems because they are white as many seem to mistake it, it is not about saying white people are less important, it is simply about remembering that your race has dealt you a different hand. For better or for worse. It’s just about being self aware. Much like how Black Lives Matter does not mean White lives don’t matter, but about reminding you that black lives do matter too in a world that sometimes neglects to think about it, that all lives matter.
[A]ll our phrasing--race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy--serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.Coates refuses to let the issue be sugar-coated and rubs the reader’s nose in the gore and terror of reality to make sure you will not forget it. He does not make apologies. The naysayers frequently like to dismiss the horrible murders mentioned in the book by pointing out that the victim had been committing a crime, yet this is grossly missing the point. Remember the ‘I can’t breathe!’ incident from a year or so ago, where the man was strangled by a police office responding to him illegally selling cigarettes? His crime in no way negates the fact that his arrest led directly and immediately to his death. ‘Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed,’ Coates reminds us. The punishment in no way equals the crime. The police officer should not be the judge, jury and executioner, the punishment of death is not theirs to decide. What is worse is that ‘The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.’ From Michael Brown to Prince Jones, Coates looks deep into the death of men at the hands of police.
You would be a man one day, and I could not save you from the unbridgeable distance between you and your future peers and colleagues, who might try to convince you that everything I know, all the things I'm sharing with you here, are an illusion, or a fact of a distant past that need not be discussed. And I could not save you from they police, from their flashlights, their hands, their nightsticks, their guns. Prince Jones, murdered by the men who should have been his security guards, is always with me, and I knew that soon he would be with you ...
All my life I'd heard people tell their black boys and black girls to "be twice as good," which is to say "accept half as much." These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. That is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.
The birth of a better world is not ultimately up to you, though I know, each day, there are grown men and women who tell you otherwise. The world needs saving precisely because of the actions of these same men and women. I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you. And you must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful — the policeman who cracks you with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in your furtive movements. And this is not reducible to just you — the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you never will know. You have to make peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton and gold.
It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in the moments we lose. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the second kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.