A few months ago, my friend Dawn gave me Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me, for my birthday. I had placed a library hold on the book earlier in the year, but, as is common with popular new releases, the waiting list was dozens deep. I had resigned myself to a long wait, and in a way, I didn’t mind. I had read several of Coates’s magazine pieces, so I knew his words would resonate. And, in my fragile state of generalized rage, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to sit with the weight of centuries of injustice and misery visited on people of African descent in this country.
But then Dawn popped up with a surprise at a long-overdue gathering of old friends, and I no longer had a reason to put it off. After weeks of procrastination, I finally decided to read it. I am so glad I did. Between the World and Me is absolutely mesmerizing. It touched me on many levels. And it resonated more than I could have imagined.
As I grow in wisdom and experience, as I learn what I had never been taught and unlearn so much of what I had, I am beginning to understand the deep connections between the exploitation of human beings and the exploitation of our planet. The forces that drove the transatlantic slave trade, the centuries of forced labor, colonization, and genocide are the same forces that are responsible for the razing of hills, poisoning of rivers, and clear-cutting of forests. This material greed, this disconnection from cause and effect, this propensity to elevate Self to the highest status, is behind the belief that “property owners” have the right to do whatever they want to our shared planet. It is the source of austerity politics. It drives corporations’ obsession with short-term profits. And it created the concept of race.
The rise of the automobile is this warped world view now reaching its pinnacle. And, as Coates points out in this brilliant quote, all of us, even — in fact, especially — its chief victims, will suffer as it finally collapses upon itself.
No. I left The Mecca knowing this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.
Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the bodies of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky.
Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is riding with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.