Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is a book-length letter to his black son about race in America. After writing for 150 pages, this is how he chose to end his book, with the most lyrical, forceful link between climate and racial justice I have ever read:
“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 by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmitting 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 body of the Earth itself…Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising 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 method 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.”
—Between The World And Me
Why did he end this book on race with talk about fossil fuels?
One answer might’ve been found last Sunday, August 9, as 350PDX and Portland Rising Tide members attended a Black Lives Matter speak-out. After the group gathered in remembrance of Michael Brown, Portland police arrested Black Lives Matter leader Teressa Raiford and supporter Diane Chavez. Black Lives Matter spoke about how difficult it will be to succeed if they go it alone. The reason for this sentiment, I think, has something to do with why Coates included this line on the last page of his book:
“the same habit that endangers the planet [is] the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”
It may have been unintentional, but he paints the world in shades of black and green, the same colors of a storm at sea, the colors of Black Lives Matter and of the environmental movement.
There is a message here. A call to action. I cannot quite articulate it. But I think that Ms. Raiford and Ms. Chavez can, that protestors on the streets of Ferguson and climbers under the St. Johns Bridge can, that 350PDX and Black Lives Matter can, that Portland Rising Tide and #DontShootPDX can, and that ultimately we must articulate or else find ourselves on an unfamiliar, rising sea, one so urgently and beautifully portrayed by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The message seems to be that the success of the climate justice movement is inter-dependent on the racial justice movement. This is why I plan on attending events like Poetic Justice’s poetry slam at 5th Avenue Lounge this August 30: to let poets check out the thousands of Coates this country has hung up, to watch them build arks from microphones, to hear their voices flood the system, to listen to them gather, two-by-two, these black and green movements one voice at a time. Where Coates’ book ends, I hope Portland is just the beginning.