BOOKS: ‘Between the World and Me’ Puts Kaepernick’s Protest Into Haunting Words


Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” puts Colin Kaepernick’s protest into words. | Below, Colin Kaepernick. | Wikipedia

Colin_Kaepernick_-_San_Francisco_vs_Green_Bay_2012.jpgSaturday, September 10, 2016 || By Michael Romain || BOOKS || @maywoodnews

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit out the national anthem before an Aug. 26 preseason game ignited a predictable firestorm. This was part of his explanation for the controversial move:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said during a postgame interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Whatever one may think of Kaepernick’s protest, there’s no arguing that it isn’t new. As “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg said on air last week. “The b—ch about all of this is that we’re still protesting the same thing. That’s the awful part.”

For those who want to get inside of, instead of argue with or outright condemn, the quarterback’s protest and the lived experience that informs it, they should read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World And Me.”

The book is a roughly 150-page essayistic letter to the author’s 15-year-old son. The style and structure of the essay is loosely premised on James Baldwin’s iconic 1963 book “The Fire Next Time.”

As with Baldwin, who might be said to have put into words the protest of 1968 gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos (they of the infamous leather-gloved-fisted Black Power salute), Coates has written a book for Kaepernick’s protest.

In 2015, Coates wrote that the banality of racialized violence experienced by most blacks “can never excuse America, because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.”

Kaepernick is protesting a strain of everyday violence that, according to Coates, entails “men in uniform [who] drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect” and “pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone’s grandmother, on the side of the road.” And for those atrocities, the author notes, those men in uniform are “rarely held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.”


More than 50 years ago, Baldwin wrote, “One did not have to be very bright to realize how little one could do to change one’s situation; one did not have to be abnormally sensitive to be worn down to a cutting edge by the incessant and gratuitous humiliation and danger one encountered every working day, all day long.

“The humiliation did not apply merely to working days, or workers; I was thirteen and was crossing Fifth Avenue on my way to the Forty-second Street library, and the cop in the middle of the street muttered as I passed him, ‘Why don’t you niggers stay uptown where you belong?’ When I was ten, and didn’t look, certainly, any older, two policemen amused themselves with me by frisking me, making comic (and terrifying) speculations concerning my ancestry and probable sexual prowess, and for good measure, leaving me fall on my back in one of Harlem’s empty lots.”

Still protesting the same thing, indeed. VFP

Afriware logo.jpgSupport Maywood’s only independent bookstore. Pick up, or order, a copy of Coates’s bestseller at AfriWare Books. Click here to browse the store’s inventory.

You can also check out a copy from the Maywood Public Library, which also carries these new fiction titles:


And don’t forget about this event …

Book Discussion with Gabriel Lara || Saturday, Sept. 17 || 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. || Maywood Public Library || 121 S. 5th Ave. || MAYWOOD

Gabriel Lara, the executive director of Maywood’s Quinn Community Center, will lead a discussion on the novel “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea. The novel is set in Mexico and the United States and beautifully details the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl named Nayeli, who comes to the United States seeking a better life.

The book discussion is part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program, which offers funding so that local libraries can launch community-wide discussions on issues of national urgency … like immigration. The Maywood Public Library is sharing an NEA grant with several other area libraries, including Oak Park Public Library and Forest Park Public Library.

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