I struggled with this book. Not because the content scared me or made me uncomfortable. Not because it drew into question something I do not see or fail to acknowledge. But because what Coates tries to scratch the surface of is an extraordinarily complex network of invasive roots that both has strangled our collective culture and has consistently unearthed itself in a knotted fashion in places seemingly distanced from our country’s base. In a less metaphorical way, race is nearly always at the forefront of or a driving force of our societal (insert any word) – history, music, fashion, culture, vernacular. What is even more confusing is that we have created a narrative about race that in reality has so many dimensions and layers and colors but we have distilled it down into a simple dichotomy. What is black and what is white.
Coates is an astounding writer. He brings an eloquence, a voice, a personal experience that combined creates a feat of literature. To improve our future, we must understand our past. That is the undertone of this book or at least the optimist’s interpretation of his work. But my only complaint would be that the book reads of Coates being keenly aware of how good a writer he is. I know this sounds ridiculous. What I mean is that every sentence is worked. The network of euphuisms, metaphors, and a solitary chapter format created this rhetorical netting that I sometimes got a little lost in – like I had just read a circular sentence. Many paragraphs can be anything but direct and should you not analyze every word and the construction of every sentence, you are bound to miss big parts of the book. To begin to unravel a complicated tapestry such as race and America, a little more directed language may be necessary. Based on my brief experience with his other writings, I doubt there is anyone else more suited for the job than Coates.
I would be interested to hear him speak. Perhaps someday I will get that opportunity some day.