Don't expect a sugarcoated perspective on race in America if you pick up Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book. Due out tomorrow, the senior editor for the Atlantic pens Between the World and Me as a letter to his 14-year-old son, and it's a bleak but honest take that Benjamin Wallace-Wells, writing for the Daily Intelligencer, says reveals Coates' "hard truths." "Here is what I would like for you to know," Coates writes. "In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage." It's exactly that focus on the destruction of the body—one unmitigated by Christianity's optimism—that makes up a major theme and what "gives Coates' writing urgency," Wallace-Wells writes: For Coates, an atheist who here borrows from the feminist lexicon, "indignity is always physical." Coates himself writes, "Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions."
Coates also addresses public policy affecting people not only by class, but by race (he even took on President Obama on this topic), as well as the Obama/MLK concepts of "hope" and "dreams"—concepts that Coates believes, per Wallace-Wells, "gave white liberals a pass." Coates also isn't terribly optimistic the race problem here will ever disappear, writing, "Chaos is what we have. … If to the end of its existence America harbors white supremacy, I don't know how remarkable that would be." Coates' truths are receiving acclaim: As the Intelligencer notes, AO Scott tweeted recently that the book is "essential, like water or air." And novelist Toni Morrison gave Coates perhaps the greatest compliment of all: "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates." (Read an excerpt from Coates' book in the Atlantic, as well as the full piece in the Daily Intelligencer.)