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'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Book discussion Friday, May 13, 1 p.m. EDT

Unionist
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*


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Catchfire
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Great choice!


swallow
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Will you join us for the conversation? 


mark_alfred
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The book sounds interesting, so if the hold I just put on it at the library comes through in time, then yes, I'll gladly join in.


Caissa
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Read the book on the weekend. Looking forward to Friday's discussion.


Unionist
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Finished it on the weekend (didn't read it on the weekend - I'm not Caissa). Now skimming through it again and making some notes. Which I should have done the first time round.


kim elliott
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Also finished on the weekend.  Glad to see you guys doing this! I haven't always been able to finish books on time in the past of the book club...

 


Caissa
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Glad you were able to finish it this time, Kim.  I haven't made any notes, Unionist. I am trying to ruminate on the central theme.


Caissa
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This article relates to the book.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36273488


Unionist
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Caissa wrote:

This article relates to the book.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36273488

Update:

Trayvon Martin gun "removed from sale"


infracaninophile
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Arrrgh, I will not be able to make very sagacious comments compared to you two. I hated "lit crit" type exercises in school and bomb on text analysis. Give me math and science, thanks. But maybe I can add a puerile comment or two when the coversation begins:-)


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infracaninophile wrote:

Arrrgh, I will not be able to make very sagacious comments compared to you two.

Do not, ever, underestimate our ability to be superficial and facile.

Quote:
Give me math and science, thanks. 

Sure:

Mathematicians are geeking out about a bizarre discovery in prime numbers

Quote:

Researchers studying prime numbers at Stanford University have stumbled upon a new phenomenon. In their study, published on arXiv, they show that consecutive prime numbers try hard not to be similar.That is, they may not be as random as once thought.

 Apart from the single-digit prime numbers 2 and 5, all other prime numbers can only end in one of four digits: 1, 3, 7, or 9. (If a number ends in 2, 4, 6, 8 or 0, it will be divisible by 2. If it ends in 5, it will be divisible by 5.) Thus, if they were truly random, a prime number that ends in 1 should be followed by another prime number ending in 1 about 25% of the time. That is, this kind of pairing should occur at least one in four times.

 But when Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver checked the first billion prime numbers, they found that a prime number ending in 1 is followed by another also ending in 1 about 18% of the time. That is, this kind of pairing occurred only one in five times. Instead, that prime number was followed by a prime number ending in 3 or 7 about 30% of the time and by 9 about 22% of the time. This result holds true for prime numbers ending in 3, 7 or 9 too, but with slightly less bias.

I know, I know, I was shocked also. 


Caissa
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"Race is the child of racism."


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Caissa wrote:

"Race is the child of racism."

I think that's undeniably true and increasingly apparent to progressive-minded folks. It's one of the reasons for referring to "racialized" people. They are literally ascribed a "race" by a society which discriminates, oppresses, exploits, kills, in order to maintain the domination of some over others (with the aim of acquiring and maintaining wealth, property, "comfort", etc.). It's an important conclusion which many of us have finally started to get, but needs to be repeated and advocated.

In one place, he gives graphic examples of "races" that don't exist any more, because racist societies needed them once but have moved on (Irish, Italian, German, can't recall the 4th one...). Race has no objective existence or precise delineation - whether it's the oppressed (in this case, Blacks) or the oppressor (who call themselves "white").

 


Caissa
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The other simple, clear message of the book is that black people (Coates term) do not have control of their bodies.

ETA: The auction seems back on. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36281438

RETA: I think the fourth race was the Franks.


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Caissa wrote:

The other simple, clear message of the book is that black people (Coates term) do not have control of their bodies.

Right. And the fear of losing your life ("body") is never far from the surface, whether in the schools or the streets, even for those few Blacks (like Coates's own family, or like Prince Jones's) who have "made it" to some extent and are starting to (think they can) live "the Dream". The racism isn't just, or even primarily, some stereotypes or attitudes. It's rape, murder, plunder, and it operates on an individual level, not just on the "mass". What he said on that score resonated with me.


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Did you notice that he used the term "white privilege" only once - around page 6 - and it was one of a list of terms which he called "phrasing" that "obscures that racism is a visceral experience". Found that intriguing. Although arguably, all his references to "the Dream" could be seen as talking about the same phenomenon.

Yeah, the Franks, that was it.


Left Turn
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I really like the narrative style of the book, which allowed Ta-Nehisi Coates to get to the heart of what he is talkjing about right from the get go.

Caissa wrote:

The other simple, clear message of the book is that black people (Coates term) do not have control of their bodies.

I had some awareness of black people having less control over thir bodies than white people, but it was a real eye opener to see how pervasive a force this can be in the lives of black people, even those who are relatively well-off.

 do however think that Ta-Nehisi Coatws singular focus on race to the exclusion of class is a bit simplistic. I don't deny that all black people in the United States face threats to the safety of their person that white people ds not. However, rich black people do have some advantages over poor working class white folks that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't acknowledge. It's true that a rich black person is still more likely to be shot by the police than a poor white person, but a rich black person generally doesn't have the same financial stress that a poor white person does.


Caissa
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Page 10 but who is source checking. ;^)) Is the Dream meant to be short for the American Dream?


Left Turn
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Caissa wrote:

Page 10 but who is source checking. ;^)) Is the Dream meant to be short for the American Dream?

for the American Dream

I'm pretty sure the Dream is short for the American Dream.

Coates also uses the term "Dreamers" in the third chapter I think as a reference to white people or some subset of white people. Note that the more common usage of the term refers to supporters of the "Dream Act", which would give citizenship to the US-born children of undocumented immigrants.


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Caissa wrote:
Is the Dream meant to be short for the American Dream?

That was my assumption.

Left Turn wrote:

I do however think that Ta-Nehisi Coatws singular focus on race to the exclusion of class is a bit simplistic. I don't deny that all black people in the United States face threats to the safety of their person that white people ds not. However, rich black people do have some advantages over poor working class white folks that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't acknowledge. It's true that a rich black person is still more likely to be shot by the police than a poor white person, but a rich black person generally doesn't have the same financial stress that a poor white person does.

I agree as to where his singular focus is. Not sure I'd go with "simplistic". I think he's writing a cautionary tale to his son. He's telling him that the era of slavery lasted longer than the subsequent era. That lives are at risk all the time. That he himself (father) gets sucked in by the Dream and has to remind himself that it's an instrument of self-enslavement (not his term).

In short, he's not dealing with the whole reality of life - like wealth and class and climate change (but I'll have a question about that later...) - he's dealing with racialization, and how it's nowhere near a solved problem, and it's a matter of life and death, and all he can bequeath to his son is the fundamental importance of struggle. He can't even provide him with light at the end of the tunnel.

Similarly, it occurred to me that he never deals with America's criminal worldwide empire, the murder and enslavement of others in the present day. Nor with the situation of the Indigenous people. But I concluded that that's simply not his subect. If he ends up making gross errors by ignoring class and empire, etc., then I guess that would become more important. But I'm not sure he does that.


Caissa
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I don't think it is "simplistic" but his thesis is "simple" to grasp. His primary audience is his son unless we believe that this was a rhetorical device.


infracaninophile
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Left Turn wrote:

 

I'm pretty sure the Dream is short for the American Dream.

Coates also uses the term "Dreamers" in the third chapter I think as a reference to white people or some subset of white people.

 

He uses that term frequently, throughout the book, seemingly for white people as a whole and for the world they inhabit. I found it a significant, if puzzling, epithet. It suggests that their lives are lived in illusion, on the one hand - a dream world is not reality - but to be inside it also impiied exclusion.  Prince Jones' mother, who aspired in some ways towards the "Dream" world, could never be a part of it, and those outside the Dream were fair game for plunder, exploitation and violence. In fact, if I understood Coates correctly, the sine qua non of that Dream world is the violence and exploitation of those excluded from it. 

He used these word, (Dream. Dreamers) so often they obviously carry a great deal of meaning, beyond being simply references to the "American Dream" (which is differently defined depending on the source). What did you literary folks think?. 


Caissa
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Doesn't he also use the phrase " people who think they are white"? I found that this usage often yanked me out of the narrative and caused me to reflect more on the argument being made.

I think he may also have been rederining or commenting upon the American Dream.


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infracaninophile wrote:

He used these word, (Dream. Dreamers) so often they obviously carry a great deal of meaning, beyond being simply references to the "American Dream" (which is differently defined depending on the source). What did you literary folks think?. 

I think Dream (capital D) is the subjective counterpart for the "majoritarian pigs" (as he calls the dominant group once) of the objective reality of plunder, dispossession, enslavement, violence.

But he refers to other dreams as well:

Coates wrote:
To be black and beautiful was not a matter for gloating. Being black did not immunize us from history’s logic or the lure of the Dream. The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.

And elsewhere:

Coates wrote:
When I came to Howard, Chancellor Williams’s Destruction of Black Civilization was my Bible. Williams himself had taught at Howard. I read him when I was sixteen, and his work offered a grand theory of multi-millennial European plunder. The theory relieved me of certain troubling questions—this is the point of nationalism—and it gave me my Tolstoy.

[my emphasis]

The Dream, he says, is about generalization, simplification, offering answers where what is needed are questions. He's basically saying this applies to all "nationalist" dreams (and no doubt racial, religious, etc.). This resonated with me too.


Unionist
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Caissa wrote:

Doesn't he also use the phrase " people who think they are white"? I found that this usage often yanked me out of the narrative and caused me to reflect more on the argument being made.

Yes - it's one of his central themes, that colour is a matter not of "race", but of racialization. No one is "really" white, or "really" black. And those artificial boundaries and categories shift and sway as society plods its way through history.

Somewhere he says that "race is hierarchy". That about sums it up.


Caissa
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Good discussion. I hope others chime in at a later date. Should we figure out a mechanism to choose the next book, next week and then have another discussion in June?


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Caissa wrote:

Good discussion. I hope others chime in at a later date. Should we figure out a mechanism to choose the next book, next week and then have another discussion in June?

But... but... I'm not finished ranting!!!


Caissa
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Other forums are designed for ranting. Would you like me to suggest a few threads for your ranting pleasure? Wink


Unionist
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Ok, ok, but I'm going to keep bumping this thread until some of the other usual suspects have time to weigh in.

And thanks, Left Turn and infracaninophile, for chiming in! You too, Caissa.

Meanwhile... I guess we need a new thread to pick the next book?


Left Turn
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Unionist wrote:

Caissa wrote:
Is the Dream meant to be short for the American Dream?

That was my assumption.

Left Turn wrote:

I do however think that Ta-Nehisi Coatws singular focus on race to the exclusion of class is a bit simplistic. I don't deny that all black people in the United States face threats to the safety of their person that white people ds not. However, rich black people do have some advantages over poor working class white folks that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't acknowledge. It's true that a rich black person is still more likely to be shot by the police than a poor white person, but a rich black person generally doesn't have the same financial stress that a poor white person does.

I agree as to where his singular focus is. Not sure I'd go with "simplistic". I think he's writing a cautionary tale to his son. He's telling him that the era of slavery lasted longer than the subsequent era. That lives are at risk all the time. That he himself (father) gets sucked in by the Dream and has to remind himself that it's an instrument of self-enslavement (not his term).

In short, he's not dealing with the whole reality of life - like wealth and class and climate change (but I'll have a question about that later...) - he's dealing with racialization, and how it's nowhere near a solved problem, and it's a matter of life and death, and all he can bequeath to his son is the fundamental importance of struggle. He can't even provide him with light at the end of the tunnel.

Similarly, it occurred to me that he never deals with America's criminal worldwide empire, the murder and enslavement of others in the present day. Nor with the situation of the Indigenous people. But I concluded that that's simply not his subect. If he ends up making gross errors by ignoring class and empire, etc., then I guess that would become more important. But I'm not sure he does that.

I'm not saying that he needs to address the whole reality of life. I do wish he had acknowledged somewhere in the book that there are some common interests between working class "whites" and "blacks".

The capitalist ruling class wants white poor/working class people to think they have nothing in comon with poor/working class people of color (poc). It helps them to promote the lie that all white people can get ahead if we keep poc down. This task is easier when poc themselves believe they have nothing in common with "whites".

Maybe I'm asking too much of Coates in this regard.


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