46 Matching Annotations
  1. Jul 2015
    1. I first witnessed this power out on the Yard, that communal green space in the center of the campus where the students gathered and I saw everything I knew of my black self multiplied out into seemingly endless variations. There were the scions of Nigerian aristocrats in their business suits giving dap to bald-headed Qs in purple windbreakers and tan Timbs. There were the high-yellow progeny of A.M.E. preachers debating the clerics of Ausar-Set. There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt. There were Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses. It was like listening to a hundred different renditions of “Redemption Song,” each in a different color and key. And overlaying all of this was the history of Howard itself. I knew that I was literally walking in the footsteps of all the Toni Morrisons and Zora Neale Hurstons, of all the Sterling Browns and Kenneth Clarks, who’d come before.

      I love the details, the pride, the power of this description!

    2. The violence that undergirded the country, so flagrantly on display during Black History Month, and the intimate violence of the streets were not unrelated.

      But how exactly are they related? And doesn't this (of course it does) deeply complicate the concerns about "black-on-black" crime, making the violence experience by a black youth all part of a connected system of violence?

    3. No one of us were “black people.” We were individuals, a one of one

      This need for remembering that we are individuals, not a composite of a whole race, is essential. Too often, we allow ourselves to be defined by stereotypes that lack a connection unless we embrace them in our own thinking and actions.

    4. Before I could escape, I had to survive

      Many minority groups are discouraged from giving back to their communities because escape is a survival reality. Returning is not deemed an honorable option when it equates to demise of the body.

    5. Before I could escape, I had to survive

      Many minority groups are discouraged from giving back to their communities because escape is a survival reality. Returning is not deemed an honorable option when it equates to demise of the body.

    6. fear lived on in their practiced bop, their slouching denim, their big T- shirts, the calculated angle of their baseball caps

      These clothes often are stereotypes of urban bodies for black youth. In contrast, I would say that the opposite response of polo shirts, bow ties, and conforming attire that many black boys wear in an effort to fit in with the dominant culture--through assimilation--is also a form of fear.

    7. Back then all I could do was measure these freedom-lovers by what I knew. Which is to say, I measured them against children pulling out in the 7-Eleven parking lot, against parents wielding extension cords, and the threatening intonations of armed black gangs saying, “Yeah, nigger, what’s up now?” I judged them against the country I knew, which had acquired the land through murder and tamed it under slavery, against the country whose armies fanned out across the world to extend their dominion.

      I wonder if our "BlackLivesMatter" curriculum sometimes makes the same mistakes. http://youthvoices.net/blacklivesmatter

    8. or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white,

      This is such a powerful articulation--borrowed from Baldwin as the epigraph makes clear--of the social construct of whiteness.

    9. the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak.

      A riff on the title of TNC's forthcoming book, itself a a riff on WEB Du Bois's famous description of black experience in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). As he opens that book in a chapter entitled "Of Our Spiritual Strivings":

      BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it.

    10. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile.

      Is the answer undefined because respect for our common humanity has no specific path? Each person must find his or her own terms of connection with every individual since we combat tendencies in varied ways when we encounter our differences.

      Perhaps, when we struggle to define difference as either weakness or strength, we open the door for the challenge of racism and other social inequities. Perhaps difference, when counted as a necessary glue--a common bond--to elevate humans to being more collectively than who we are individually, is what we grapple with because we see it as isolating when we should see it as our hope for attaining our greatest human character once we see difference as a function of our collective wealth--our interdependence on each other--rather than our independence to stand in contrast to one another.

    11. This legacy

      legacy = heritage = systemic inequity = cloaked hoods reminiscent of the hoods worn by KKK and their ideological superiority

    12. the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body

      I am hesitant to place this broad sense of authority on the police department. I do not think it is a department; instead, I believe it to be people cloaked in masks of justice Some believe in a false image of of others based on color: they see color and not a person, an image and not a heart, a stereotype and not a son or a daughter.

      When the person in uniform starts seeing problems and not people, they take on the systemic, divisive heritage of inequity that manifests itself in racists, sexists, social hierarchies that destroy the humanity in all of us.

    13. the Dream rests on our backs

      If a people's wealth, being, or privilege is based on standing on the backs of others, the struggle or jeopardy of the situation is that they are living on uncertain time--a time that will disappear once those who are on their backs eventually stand straight. For those who stand on the backs of others, they have not known true work for what they have attained since they have not earned what they have by their own efforts--at least not on the basis of their own grit and determination that emerged from their personal character of inner strength and resilience. They must live lives continually wondering when the dream will end, when the property will be returned to those who have rightfully fought for what is in the hands of a usurping group.

      A usurped dream is a delusion, a farce, a hoax, that survives on borrowed time, terms, and values. For those who benefit from its ongoing perpetuation, the dream is more of a pending nightmare.

    14. How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were, and then speak of nonviolence?

      Or Restorative Justice these days, I suppose. Yeah, there's something going on here. I need to just listen more.

    15. The world, the real one, was civilization secured and ruled by savage means.

      Only? I get the contrast Coates is describing here, but can't we have non-violence and a savage civilization, with reality bouncing between these?

    16. into the church

      What about school? Can school be a retreat from the culture of the street? Or does it just extend that culture?

    17. The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions, and every incorrect answer risks a beat-down, a shooting, or a pregnancy.

      Given my interest in inquiry and the use of questions, I wonder if Coates would say the same about school, that it transforms "every ordinary day into a series of trick questions," and (I fear) "every incorrect answer risks a beat-down" -- even if it's just humiliation and bad grades.

    18. When I was your age, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with whom I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, whom or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body.

      Teachers need to understand that this is going on in our classrooms too.

    19. there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies.

      I'm trying to remember if I, growing up in a home that thought of itself as white in a small town, ever felt this dread. I do remember fearing death as a child, but it was when I was in the back seat of a car, watching the highway rushing by. I don't remember feeling like anybody could kill me.

    20. a dream

      A different kind of dream from the Dream referred to in the first couple of paragraphs.

    21. either failed at enforcing its good intentions or succeeded at something much darker.

      Why do we have to accept this as either/or here? Why can't we continue to embrace both sides of this opposition?

    22. sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit.

      And I guess that the point is that we have to live with both sides of the oppositions presented in this paragraph

    23. a catalog of behaviors and garments

      The fashion and lifestyles of fear. I love the details in this paragraph. I wonder what to do with this critical perspective. Do we look at sagging pants and think, "I know something you don't. I know that you are responding to the fear in your life." Of course not, but then how do we integrate Coates insights? Or do we just listen to what he is saying to his son, and take something from what he is saying in the context of explaining something to his son. Perhaps it's enough to understand that fashion and lifestyle choices have meaning, and it's worth exploring these meanings with the youth making these decisions.

    24. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

      What does this central thesis -- I think -- feel like, get understood to mean... to a 15 year old?

    25. most gorgeous dream

      I'm wondering if "the dream" -- at least as Coates sketches it out in the remainder of this paragraph -- has become a "war with the known world" for people without education and money. Is it about race or class. Robert Putnam makes a good case for the problem being about rising economic inequality in America, even as racial and sexual divisions have been lessening.

    26. the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free

      I read this paragraph three times, blinking back tears. Moments like this get collected by many (not all) of our students. It's amazing to ask them, to give them space -- perhaps a little information -- to tell their own memories of these weeks. There's something here for curriculum, for teasing out the memories of our students over the past years. And asking them what these stories mean to them, and asking them to use writing to remember and to make meaning of these moments. That's how anti-racist education with African-American and Latino youth is different.

    27. stopping and frisking you

      Stop and frisk has ended, right? Not so fast: "The NYPD hasn’t ended its practice of stop-and-frisk...." It just stopped reporting the number of stops.

      See: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/nyregion/some-new-york-police-street-stops-are-going-undocumented-report-says.html?_r=0

    28. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.

      very poetic

    29. a popular news show
    30. indistinct sadness

      I like that he is taking us on a journey of this sadness becoming more clear or perhaps he is just noticing the times when it comes up.

    31. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me.

      The clarity of this sentence comes from this being a letter.

    32. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.

      Yes

    33. 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.

      A powerful lesson .. a truth in America ... and a gift from a father to a son that all that comes before leads to ...

    34. Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.

      I saw this reference in a review of the book ... amazing to think about ...

    35. I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past.

      A great lesson ...

    36. I, like every kid I knew, loved The Dukes of Hazzard. But I would have done well to think more about why two outlaws, driving a car named the General Lee, must necessarily be portrayed as “just some good ole boys, never meanin’ no harm”—a mantra for the Dreamers if there ever was one.

      How did we all get hooked into that show and its underlying narrative?

    37. But my history professors thought nothing of telling me that my search for myth was doomed, that the stories I wanted to tell myself could not be matched to truths.

      What? Is that true? or perception of the past?

    38. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent?

      Interesting ... and this is what we show and explain in school today, too, right? Peaceful protest ...

    39. I knew that my portion of the American galaxy, where bodies were enslaved by a tenacious gravity, was black and that the other, liberated portion was not. I knew that some inscrutable energy preserved the breach.

      This seems to be the center of this whole piece, in my opinion.

    40. To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The law did not protect us.

      This was the reality of despair. Or is the reality of despair. How do we fix this? How?

    41. There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers

      I don't agree. Maybe not uniquely. But evil, nonetheless.

    42. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

      Man. Powerful moment. I can see him. I can see his son. I see the shadows of history. And even in the sadness, I see something .. a glimmer. Perhaps, as a father, I am projecting. So be it. This is one of those moments, the lesson that will linger.

    43. I was sad for you

      This phrase makes the political so personal, as he intends. It really hits the heartstrings .. and I feel like I am intruding here, don't you? As if I shouldn't be reading this talk between father and son ... as if annotating in the margins is infringing on that bond that the writing is creating. Or is that me?

    44. And I remembered that I had expected to fail.

      This is a sad commentary on our times, when such an articulate man either can't find the words, or has the words but know they won't matter. Or something else I am not privy to.

    45. JUL 4, 2015

      Hard not to relate this piece to another great statement of African American experience: Frederick Douglass's 1841 speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

      Image Description

    46. lose my body

      I'm just trying to imagine how it might make Coates son squirm to have his dad talk to him about his body. I guess I'm squirming a bit too. I'm expecting to hear about racism, but here I'm being asked to think about a body.