As a general rule, you should read everything Ta-Nehisi Coates writes. Over the weekend, he exceeded his own already exceptional standards, publishing Letter to My Son in the Atlantic. More than anything I’ve ever read, Coates manages to make the reader feel, just for a moment, the full weight of the damage done by racism, past and present:
In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor—it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old Negro spirituals. The spirit and soul are the body and brain, which are destructible—that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And the fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stovewood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.
As Coates points out and then brings to life in his letter, it is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of the facts and figures, but it is as important to stop and remember the actual lived impact of all the policies and analysis that I (and many others) write about and study. Coates reminds us that:
all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. 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.