The World Is a Ghetto

More


One of the traps of being African-American and exploring other places is the hope that somewhere beyond the oceans their lies a mystical "Land Without Strangers"--a place where the  racism of America falls away and you can simply be human. 


I know this mostly from reading about the comfort Paul Robeson took in Russia, and various African-Americans took in France. We've talked about this some in the comments and the upshot of course is that there is no such place, or rather if there is the African-American stranger is simply someone else.

I've been thinking about this re-reading Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. Much of Morgan's book is a history of indentured servitude in 17th century Virginia. But more than that the book tells the story of a kind of proto-slavery wherein you see Brits practicing the sort of violence on their own, which they would later perfect on us. 

Men are kidnapped, sold and traded, heinous punishment is doled out, and sexual violence (violence period) against slaves goes unpunished. The early Virginia farmers are constantly scheming for ways to keep their servants reduced to a barely above slavery. It's depressing because you realize that your oppression isn't particularly unique, and your status as oppressed isn't unique. You are simply one Stranger among long line of Strangers.

As you guys know, I've been studying French. It is such a beautiful language and the need to  balance the majesty of France with their human need to create Strangers is a constant thing. I thought about this watching the Hors La Loi. It's streaming on Netflix (as Outside The Law,) and I highly, highly recommend it. It details the independence struggle of Algerians in France and there is so much about it that felt familiar. 

I'm a weird dude. I was telling Kenyatta early today that when we finally go to Paris, as much as I want to see the work of Rodin, I have to see the suburbs. I know, logically, that there really shouldn't be much expectation for commonality in struggle. But I feel it in my bones. I can't even logically explain it. It's like, as someone once said here, being "ethnically Christian." I'm like an "ethnic lefty" or something. 

All kidding aside see Outside The Law. It's beautifully acted. 
Jump to comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

From This Author