If we could read Coates's book alongside other major autobiographical works by black men, we'd see some cool overlapping patterns in terms of them describing how they all came to a certain kind of intellectual consciousness.
You see it in Frederick Douglass's narrative. You see it in Richard Wright's autobiography. It's there in Malcolm. It's in Haki Madhubuti's autobiography. Yep, you see it in Obama's books. And here it is, there also, in Coates's The Beautiful Struggle. You read passages of all those men engaging various texts and getting a spark from those texts that, at least according to their accounts, is really important, transformational even.
Coates moves along in that tradition. One important difference, though, relates to what counts as the meaningful "text" for Coates. For him, it's not just books, but also music. At one point in chapter 4, he goes
I was twelve, but when I heard 'Lyrics of Fury' - 'A horn if you want the style I possess / I bless the child, the earth, the gods, and bomb the rest' - I put away childish things, went to the notebook, and caged myself between the blue lines. In the evenings, that summer, I would close the door, lay across the bed, and put pen to pad.Later, he goes "I wrote every day that summer, rhymed over B-side instrumentals." He admits that his flow was "flicted and disjointed," and his words "were all braggadocious." However, "when done with the recital, even though I was alone, I felt bigger" (110).
It's really fascinating to follow him writing about what rap music meant to his intellectual and emotional development as well as to his practices as a writer.
Too often, I feel, we hear over-exaggerations about the goodness of rap only matched by the proclamations about its negativity. What I like about chapter 4 and the book in general relates to how it makes me think longer and harder about the things that might inspire, frighten, intrigue, and confuse young black men. That is to say I guess, the book might be giving me ideas for thinking about the young brothers that I work with at the university and in the community.
But what about y'all? What stood out to you concerning chapter 4? What else should we be thinking about right now?
Ta-Nehisi Coates the blogger vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates the memoirist