If you want to read something, go outside and look at street signs. If you want to read the best damn thing written this millennium, find and swallow Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ “The Beautiful Struggle.” It is a fast and dangerous read.
TNC, as he is known online, writes like words don’t matter. His pacing makes prose seem poetry. He capitalizes nouns that deserve to be capitalized, not just ones that normally get the treatment. His abject neglect of quotation marks will leave you reeling.
Basically, it is his memoir of growing up in Baltimore and somehow surviving the crack epidemic, AIDS, and his super-human vegan, Vietnam Vet, ex-Panther leader father. Add on this TNC’s status as the awkward, Dice-throwing nerd and you gain an unrivalled perspective.
I am not going to spoil the book for anyone, because you really must read it yourselves. But I am going to reflect on some of the basic themes. He talks a lot about having Knowledge and being a Conscious person. Concisely, this is the knowledge that you will always be judged by your looks and conscious that your heritage and birthright are the very things that will forever put you in harms way. But more than this, it is knowing that a better world can be made, built for you and yours. Maybe not today, maybe not this generation even. It not an overly hopeful message. It is knowledge that we were slaves.
TNC’s father struggled to teach this to his children. In spite of their ignorance and apathy, in opposition to their surroundings, to make them into Conscious Individuals. In many ways this exemplifies the analogies between Blacks and Jews.
I think every religiously Jewish child grows up Conscious. If they didn’t get the message, there was something wrong with the teachers. Even the strictly culturally Jewish have a budding awareness of Knowledge. They are keen to the fact the even though their great-grandfather may have been Jewish, they themselves would have been sent to a Death Camp.
Jews, as a scholarly people, tend to approach the Knowledge academically. Which frankly hasn’t done wonders for our survival rate. Diaspora works, and if it isn’t broken why fix it? But the Knowledge comes through. We were slaves. I was a slave. I am a slave. As long as there is oppression. We have been shambling in our manacles since Exodus. Struggling, hoping to free ourselves and others. Sometimes some of us get stupid. But there we are, chain ganged to our mothers and our fathers; our family promise a whip through the ages.
It strikes me as more than coincidence that the same things that tie me to my People also tie me to a little black boy growing up in the skids of Baltimore a decade before I was born.
Some of you who grew up with me may recall my rants against White people and privilege. How could I even consider being attracted to someone who stands on the systematic marginalization of my family, since before Mathematics existed or History was invented. In the wake of that great un-discussable, how could I love those who made my grandparents crazy, who made my parents crazy, who made me crazy. The Klan was active not a few blocks from my childhood home.
My parents nodded. They understood. They taught me not to Hate. But this wasn’t Hate. This was wanting a safe place. A place where I wouldn’t be constantly confronted by the crazy past, by the nonsensical now. Every side walk and manicured lawn was the product of the theft of my blood and ashes. Holocaust dialogue is Never Again. The unspoken message is When. Each Yiddishe kid worth two buttons asks themselves, my childhood raped? Will I be an Adult? Will I be prepared?
TNC most certainly had it harder than I did. But the values are the same. Reading “The Beautiful Struggle” was like reading an alternate version of my youth. In fact, it was closer to what my mother experienced, sans the nerd. But there is a lot of Truth in what he writes. So even if you are the progeny of the great oppressor classes, I think you’ll still gain some gem of wisdom by reading it.