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Author Ta-Neishi Coates Wonders about the Church

In his New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a book length letter to his adolescent son, Samori. It's a brutally honest warning to his son about how hard it will be for him to grow up as an African-American male. "Racism," Coates writes, "is a visceral experience" which rips at the black body. Does he hope that things will get better? No. Hope is "specious," Coates says, and he makes it clear that he has no hope in God or the church.

Yet toward the end of the book he recounts a conversation with Dr. Mabel Jones, a devout Christian and the child of sharecroppers in rural Louisiana. Dr. Jones went on to serve in the Navy and become a successful radiologist. She had a daughter and a son named Prince, who became a friend of Coates. One evening a police officer confused Prince with another African American young man and shot and killed him. As Coates listened to Dr. Jones talk of what the church meant to her in the midst of suffering and injustice he writes,

I thought of my own distance from an institution that has, so often, been the only support of our people. I often wonder if in that distance I've missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you. I wondered that … because something beyond anything I have ever understood drove Mabel Jones to an exceptional life.

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