This book will make you uncomfortable. Of course, that is a pretty good reason to read it. Gaining a different sense of empathy is another good reason. Coates is an African-American writer. This short book is in the form of three essays written to his son, to explain his background and to explain the fears that a person labeled “black” in America has. The writer discovers, after he becomes a father, that these fears have become even more for his children than for himself.

Part of the book is an essay on racism, told through Coates’s discovery of the many different kinds of people who are labeled “black” while attending Howard University and through his changing views of “blackness” and African-American history as he read different books and met people from all over the world. He talks about “people who call themselves white”, meaning most Caucasians, and observes that racism came before the concept of “race”.

A significant section of the book is about the author’s (and his son’s) reactions to the brutal police killings of young black men in the past few years. When his son reacts to the shooting of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, Coates remembers his shock at the death of his friend, Prince Jones, a deeply religious college student and new father, shot by an undercover African-American police officer who was following the wrong man.

This should be required reading for Americans of all races.

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