Annegrethe Rasmussen-Plagiat


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New York Times

MICHIKO KAKUTANI, 9. juli 2015

Inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 classic “The Fire Next Time,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, “Between the World and Me,” is a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today. It takes the form of a letter from Mr. Coates to his 14-year-old son, Samori, and speaks of the perils of living in a country where unarmed black men and boys --- Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter L. Scott, Freddie Gray --- are dying at the hands of police officers, an America where just last month nine black worshipers were shot and killed in a Charleston, S.C., church by a young white man with apparent links to white supremacist groups online.

Mr. Coates’s expressionistic book is a sequel of sorts and a bookend to “The Beautiful Struggle,” his evocative 2008 memoir of growing up in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam vet and former Black Panther — as compelling a portrait of a father-son relationship as Martin Amis’s “Experience” or Geoffrey Wolff’s “The Duke of Deception,” and a showcase for Mr. Coates’s emotional reach as a writer and his both lyric and gritty prose.

"Between the World and Me" (which takes its title from a Richard Wright poem) offers an abbreviated portrait of the author's life at home, focusing mainly on the fear he felt growing up. Fear of the police, who he tells his son "have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body," and who also possess a dominion of prerogatives that include "friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations." And fear of the streets where members of crews --- "young men who'd transmuted their fear into rage" --- might "break your jaw, stomp your face, and shoot you down to feel that power, to revel in the might of their own bodies," where death might "billow up like fog" on an ordinary afternoon.

The "need to be always on guard" was exhausting, "the slow siphoning of essence," Mr. Coates writes. He "feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give police a reason."

Mr. Coates --- a national correspondent for The Atlantic --- contrasts this world of the streets with the "other world" of suburbia, "organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and glens." He associates this clichéd suburban idyll with what he calls "the Dream" --- not the American dream of opportunity and a better life for one's children; not Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of freedom and equality (which the Reverend King observed was "a dream deeply rooted in the American dream"), but instead, in Mr. Coates's somewhat confusing use of the term, an exclusionary white dream rooted in a history of subjugation and privilege.

Those Dreamers, he contends, “have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.”

There is a Manichaean tone to some of the passages in this book, and at times, a hazardous tendency to generalize. After Sept. 11, he writes that he could “see no difference between the officer” who had gunned down his Howard University schoolmate Prince Jones a year earlier — firing 16 shots at the unarmed young man, who was on his way to visit his fiancée — and the police and firefighters who lost their own lives in the terrorist attacks: “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.”

This startling passage seems meant not to convey a contempt for the first responders on Sept. 11, but to underscore the depth of Mr. Coates’s emotion over the loss of his friend and his anger at police killings of unarmed black men — killings that represent to him larger historical forces at work in American society, in which black men and women were enslaved, their families and bodies broken, and in which terrible inequities continue to exist. Yet it could be easily taken out of context, and it distracts attention from Mr. Coates’s profoundly moving account of Prince Jones’s brief life, and the grief of his mother, a woman who had worked her way up from the “raw poverty of her youth” to become an eminent doctor, trying to provide her children with comfortable — and most of all, safe — lives, which, in Prince’s case, would be cavalierly taken away one night by a police officer later found guilty of negligence and excessive force.

Sometimes Mr. Coates can sound as though he’s ignoring changes that have taken place over the decades, telling his son that "you and I" belong to "that 'below' " in the racial hierarchy of American society: "That was true in 1776. It is true today." He writes that “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

Such assertions skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made. After all, America has twice elected a black president. At other moments in this powerful and passionate book, Mr. Coates acknowledges such changes. In fact, his book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.

He points out that his son has expectations, hopes — “your dreams, if you will” — that he did not have at his age, and that he, himself, does not know “what it means to grow up with a black president, social networks, omnipresent media, and black women everywhere in their natural hair.”

“The grandness of the world,” he tells Samori, sounding a more optimistic note, “the real world, the whole world, is a known thing for you.”

Information

ANNEGRETHE RASMUSSEN, 18. juli 2015

Dette er en uomgængelig bog, skriver Nobelprisvinder Toni Morrison på omslaget af den kendte journalist, samfundsdebattør og forfatter Ta-Nehisi Coates nyeste bog, Between the World and Me, der udkom i USA i sidste uge. En finere kollegial hædersbevisning fra en af verdens mest respekterede forfattere – og en af det afroamerikanske samfunds mest elskede stemmer – fås næppe.

Alene af den grund var overtegnedes forventninger i top, da jeg startede med at læse. Dertil kommer, at jeg også med fornøjelse følger Coates som journalist på et af mine yndlingsmagasiner, The Atlantic, hvor han er tilknyttet. Hans banebrydende essay – »The Case for Reparation« – som Atlantic bragte i 2014, og som så tilbage på slaveriets 250 år lange historie, blev med rette hyldet som et af de bedste i vor tids amerikanske journalistik.

Coates skuffer ikke. Det åbne brev til Samori, hans snart 15-årige søn, er skarpt og præcist i både sit udtryk og indhold. Teksten er dertil flydende og sat i relief af nylige hændelser, der om noget har vist, hvor megen vold der fortsat bliver udøvet mod den afroamerikanske krop, som er bogens fokus. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter L. Scott, Freddie Gray er navne, der i dag er kendte over hele verden, navnene på døde sorte unge mænd og drenge (Tamir Rice var blot 12 år, da han blev skudt af en hvid politibetjent fra en bil, fordi han legede i en park med et legetøjsgevær). Og for blot en måned siden blev ni sorte kristne myrdet i en kirke i Charleston i South Carolina af en forstyrret ung mand med ideer om hvidt overherredømme.

Det skorter med andre ord ikke på nutidige eksempler. Men Coates ønsker mere end blot at bedrive aktuel samfundskritik; han ser tilbage på sin egen barndom i Baltimore, hvor han konstant var bange. Både for de mestendels hvide autoritetsfigurer (først og fremmest politiet og myndighederne) men også for den vold, han så udfolde sig i gademiljøet, hvor angste unge mænd blev forvandlet til bevæbnede hætteklædte gangstere med adgang til biler, damer og stoffer.

»Døden var allestedsnærværende som en fugtig tåge om eftermiddagen … det var udmattende altid at være på vagt,« skriver han.

Den hvide forstadsdrøm

Over for denne verden står det, Coates i sin bog kalder »Drømmen«. Drømmen har ikke noget at gøre med den amerikanske drøm – om end man kan sige, at den passer ind i dette, det mest amerikanske narrativ af dem alle. Drømmen udgøres af det (hvide), fredelige forstadsparadis, som den unge Ta-Nehisi kan se på tv og en sjælden gang har lejlighed til at besøge. En anden verden, hvor blonde børn leger fredeligt på villavejene, spiller fodbold og »hvor en teenagedrengs største problem er at finde en pige, der vil være kærester«, hvor mødrene hænger vasketøj op og ser glade på de fædre, der griller i weekenden og kommer hjem sidst på eftermiddagen fra deres arbejde. I Drømmen er der ingen stoffer, bander, narko eller gadevold. Der laves lektier, spilles basketball og spises karamelbeklædte æbler.

Kontrasten mellem livet i Drømmen og Coates’ eget på bunden fungerer effektivt som litterært narrativ og barndomserindring. Men overtegnede har svært ved at acceptere påstanden om, at det også er en udtømmende beskrivelse af USA i dag. Et USA, der på trods af de uomgængelige dybe raceforskelle og uretfærdigheder har en sort præsident på 7. år, en betydelig sort middelklasse og en til stadighed voksende bevidsthed om problemerne netop ved racisme – også den skjulte og strukturelle.

Det taler bogen kun lidt om, og den i lange stræk uforsonlige tone i bogen kan af og til føles som en insisterende prædiken, hvor nuancerne bevidst er udeladt. F.eks. når Coates skriver til sin søn, at »du og jeg lever på bunden af et hierarki, der er bygget på slaveri. Sådan var det i 1776. Sådan er det i dag.«

Mere end et flammeskrift

Kritikere vil her muligvis svare, at det simpelthen er fordi, overtegnede – der selv er rundet af den hvide øvre middelklasse, som ifølge Coates er bygget på »raceadskillelse, udelukkelse, undertrykkelse og uretmæssige privilegier« – er ude af stand til at forestille mig livet som sort i dagens Amerika. Og at min status som europæer gør mig ukvalificeret som læser.

Det kan ikke afvises, men hvis en bog skal have berettigelse som andet end et flammende kampskrift til en allerede overbevist menighed, er det vigtigt, at budskabet ikke drukner i indædt retorik. Det gør hovedparten af bogen heldigvis heller ikke. Og derfor kan den anbefales som et af de bedste nyere bud på en forståelse af racerelationerne i USA i dag. Og i øvrigt også en, der trods bogens oprørte tone, ender med et budskab om drømme og optimisme; drømme, som Coates erkender vil være unikke for hans søn, og som han ikke selv nødvendigvis vil kunne begribe.

Kommentarer

Blåt Citat

Hvor galt er det blå citat, kan man spørge. Første og fremmest skifter Samori alder i de to citater, men det kan sagtens være, han har fyldt år i de mellemværende ni dage mellem artiklerne.

Hvad der er helt sikkert er, at Annegrethe Rasmussen ikke i ramme alvor har anvendt betegnelsen “hvidt overherredømme”—en fjollet undersættelse af begrebet “white supremacy”, der ikke findes nogen dansk betegnelse for. Det er ikke muligt, at en dansk skribent med en original tanke desangående ville skrive sig op i et hjørne, hvor vedkommende endte med at bruge så kluntet en betegnelse.

Gule og Lyserøde Citater

De gule og lyserøde citater illustrerer ikke en direkte afskrift som det blå citat—hvorfor de er lidt blegere i farven—men i stedet hvordan strukturen fra New York Times-artiklen går igen.