Illustration by Ethan Rilly from Slate
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World and Me is a bleak and earnest rewriting of the black literary narrative. It is somewhere between a novella and a novel that takes form in a three part letter to his fifteen year old son. In this letter, Coates reflects on his experiences as an African American man in the United States of America. In this relatively short journey, Coates explores what being black means to him, what it has meant to elder generations, and what it might mean for his son. Monumental events in black history, including slavery, Gettysburg, the projects, black universities, twenty-first century representation of black beauty and police brutality are told from the perspective of a worried father. According to Michelle Alexander in “Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World and Me”, Coates was inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, thus Between The World and Me is a modern rewriting of Baldwin’s work. In bold red letters, Toni Morrison’s words are printed on the cover of the book; “This is required reading.” I second Morrison, and in this essay I will argue why it should be required literature, especially in academic curricula.
Political bodies of works are often criticized for bias or brainwashing. Politically speaking (or, well, writing), Between The World and Me is supercharged. Yet, there is something about Coates’s voice as a father that is so heartbreakingly enlightening, readers will universally connect to the heart of the story - if not the black experience. For example, Coates breaks the Angry Black Man/Woman trope by speaking from a position of honesty and humane fear. This is evident in parts of the book such as in page 137, when Coates admits that “[he has] never asked how [his] son became personally aware of the distance [between black people and white people in America …]. [He] doesn’t think [he wants] to know.”
According to Brent Staples in “The Racist Trope That Won’t Die”, black people were associated with apes to justify slavery. However, the racist trope lives on through black characters, especially men, who are often depicted as a “savage”, “brute” or “beast” (Staples) to justify current racial issues in the USA such as mass incarceration. There is, of course, importance in telling all stories, including the abusive but traumatized Macon Deads of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. On the other hand, Coates’s gentleness as a black father is still rarely represented in the media. Coates writes that “[he has] no desire to make [his son] “tough” or “street”, perhaps because any “toughness” [he] garnered came reluctantly.” (Coates 24). Through reading a character with such motivations, readers are be invited to reflect on their own generational trauma and question their methods of raising the next generation. Therefore, Coates’s reflectivity encourages his readers to prevent the cycle from continuing.
Furthermore, instead of pointing fingers, Coates uses the telling of specific personal experiences as a jumping-off point. Coates does not attack the reader, no matter their sociopolitical standpoint. Instead, Coates allows the reader to measure their own experiences against his with no judgement. If anything, Between The World and Me is an indoctrinating guide for those trying to understand the black experience. “It is important that I tell you their names, that you know that I have never achieved anything.” (50) Coates writes after listing his favorite black artists. Coates uses this device numerous times throughout the book as a way of curating his own black canon. Moreover, he numerously repeats the names of the victims of police brutality, including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Sean Bell. The reclamation of black names and thinkers are an effort to reclaim the erasure of black lives and art.
In conclusion, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World and Me is less propaganda and more a handbook to African American suffering. Coates retells black history, spoken and unspoken, with a passion. With anger and hatred? Yes, only to a well-deserved capacity instead of the radical Angry Black trope. Coates writes with a compassion, a sense of hope and openness that is seldom associated with black stories. Coates’s novel is not a call to war, it is merely a father’s heartbreaking love letter to his son. This is why Between The World and Me should be required reading, as Morrison stated; Coates comes from a point of gentle fear and a feeling of urgency to teach his son about the dangerous horrors that await him as a black man. Coates taps into black power with a sense of understanding that invites everyone to empathize with how it feels to live with the constant threat that your body is not yours, and that your country has failed you as a citizen with basic rights. Perhaps this is the new-age indoctrination of systematic racism; sharing the humanity of pain rather than the accusatory micro-aggressions.
Alexander, Michelle. “Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World and Me”. The New York Times.
17 August 2015.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between The World and Me. Spiegel & Grau, 2015, New York.
Staples, Brent. “The Racist Trope That Won’t Die.” The New York Times. 17 June 2018.
I am here to share my wisdom with all of you, namely my ability to like everything so much that I have to get it out on a platform before it drives me to madness. I am honestly too excited to write much so let's just get started, shall we?
Street Food - Since watching the trailer, I knew I wanted to have a look at this new Netflix series, especially since they had an episode dedicated to Yogyakarta. To be real, I was procrastinating while doing an essay so instead of watching from the very beginning, I opted to just go ahead and watch the Jogja episode. As it turns out, none of them are connected. Man, let's start off with; she's a beaut. My father's a big fan of watching street food shows on TV and we used to always make fun of the Westerners who come to Asia and try to describe our food with their odd and seemingly unfitting Western descriptions. Also, watching them eat sambel is a darkly funny thing.
Street Food, however, does not follow that format. Instead, we learn about the food through the eyes of the local. The Jogja episode follows Mbah Sentinem, a 100 year old grandmother who makes jajanan pasar (market snacks). But more than that, this episode is a love story between Mbah Sentinem, her mother, the family she provides for, and her food. After watching it, it left a gnawing feeling of adoration for my culture at the depth of my stomach and it definitely made me cry. The food, the process, and all the actors in what makes food in Jogja delicious were wonderfully shot without that Orientalist, othering view that many "street food" shows have on TV.
On top of that, there is a huge stigma around being an active elderly in the Javanese culture, I've noticed. Once you reach a certain age, society tends to fuss over you and tell you to stay home, watch over the kids and take it easy. To watch Mbah Sentinem and all her vigor, all her love for life and hilarious humor made me so happy. It made me want to go back home and revisit all the places I went to as a child. I highly recommend.
Always Be My Maybe - What does it take to be featured on Sel's Menjelang Favorites? A tear-jerker, of course! Here's another one for the representation books that just gets it right: Ali Wong and Randall Park's new Netflix original film; Always Be My Maybe. Firstly, this movie is just downright funny. I love American humor but when they're a bit more on the mainstream, slapstick side, I tend to find it a bit too aggressive. I'm here for the subtle, more sarcastic and ironic humor of TV shows like Parks and Rec, Modern Family, etc. and this film really did it.
First of all, the soundtrack is great. I love me some 90s Hip Hop/R&B. Second of all, Ali Wong's acting style is just so good. There's something extra hilarious about watching her small frame waddle in all her gigantic heeled boots.
Second of all, this has got serious feminist undertones, y'all!!! And not in the roll-your-eyes-we-get-it kind of way. Wong's character, Sasha, is a female power house who is supportive of and supported by her queer best friend. There are so many "woke" jokes that made me actually laugh instead of nod as though I'm listening to a preacher. Sometimes it's just so fun to laugh and completely get it without having to get into it, you know?
On top of that, a lot of mainstream rom-coms that try to feature strong female leads often get it wrong. They always have to sacrifice something, always have to dim their ambition. I always have a lot of hope riding on that final decision (usually it's the Work vs. Boyfriend/Fame vs. Boyfriend trope). And for a second those whack films had me guessing. I was like: wow, what is Sasha going to choose? Maybe she is selfish and a workaholic! Plot twist: she ain't. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her ambition all along! And loved ones who don't support what you want to do (and they, of course, must be good for you) are weak! End of story.
Oh, also, can we mention but not talk about Keanu Reeves? I read in an interview that Keanu Reeves basically helped develop the Keanu Reeves character. What a wild time that was. As a person who watched John Wick 3, I advise Keanu Reeves to quit martial arts and do comedy full time. Man.
Tuca and Bertie - Alright, since I wrote mini heartfelt essays for the other ones, I'll keep this one short and sweet. Tuca and Bertie stars two comedic geniuses: Ali Wong (she is killing it this month!) and Tiffany Haddish - with the addition of the beautiful Steven Yeun, Awkwafina, and Nicole Byer (also Tessa Thompson, Laverne Cox, and many more amazing people in Hollywood). The show is such a gorgeous thing conceptually (they live in an animal version of New York) and visually, it's a cross between Adventure Time and BoJack Horseman. It has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for good reason.
The show explores sexual harassment, female friendships, addiction, confidence, anxiety, family, female ambition, female anatomy, and other general adulting things in the most absurdist way possible. I love it. It's hilarious. Also that scene where Bertie has a mental breakdown in the grocery store is exactly what I experience every single time I go grocery shopping.
Booksmart - This film is It. It's Olivia Wilde's directorial debut and the cast is filled with beautiful people who wanted a chick flick about a female friendship that smashed the patriarchy. It is so incredibly funny, and still in that typical american way. At the same time, there's so much Gen Z humor that make it feel super fresh and like something we've never seen on screen before. It's honestly just hilarious and so well done. I felt like I was watching some of the people I, myself, know - but on a screen. The cast are also so sweet, I've been obsessed with watching their interviews. Also Oliva Wilde is kind of a directing genius? Ok cool.
YouTube - Bon Appétit has got it made, baby! Last summer, I was obsessed with watching their It's Alive show that stars who's-better-than-us-vinny Brad Leone and anything that Claire Saffitz does because of her super Virgo precision. I've opened my eyes since then, and have dabbled in the world of Chris, Carla, Andy, and Molly. Priya is growing on me. It's just such a great cooking channel that makes me want to cook and also doesn't make me fear cooking (which is a hard thing to do when you've got someone like me as an audience member). I still truly love It's Alive and would recommend it to those who are new to the BA Test Kitchen.
Aute Cuture by Rosalía - Thank God for Rosalía, huh? If you haven't listened to her El Mal Querer album, I recommend you start there. But Aute Cuture is such a summer bop and has big early Beyoncé vibes that I can't explain. It makes me want to smile fiercely as though I'm in a music video and go for a run at the same time. Also, she makes me genuinely want to learn Spanish just so I can sing along. I love that pop artists are moving back towards the deep, more meaningful lyrical tunes and I have to say Rosalía is at the front lines.
Heroine by Col3trane - Col3trane released an albuuuum. How blessed are we this summer, y'all? So blessed. Too blessed. He just has such a distinct voice and all of his beats are always so good - yet so different. His entire Tsarina album was genius and I have to say Heroine is a great follow up. My favorite track from the record right now is The Fruits (I mean, a collab with RAYE? Come on.)
Sucker Punch by Sigrid - Now that we've established that Rosalía is the Spanish pop princess, let's establish that Sigrid is the Norwegian pop bad ass. I love girl power and Sigrid packs a massive punch (aha! Get it?) She is so talented and after watching a live video of her performing Strangers, I realized just how powerful her voice is - which you wouldn't otherwise guess considering how soft and melodic (and almost yodel-y her voice is on her tracks). Her music makes me feel like I'm Robyn in a neo-neon-horror film about a teen pop star. My favorites from the record are Don't Kill My Vibe, Strangers, and Sucker Punch.
I've been reading a lot. Like, a lot a lot. But that's just because I'm taking an American Literature class so I thought I'd share my top 3 favs with you:
My new Extra necklace - This thing does so much. So so so much. It is so Leo and so Extra and I paid 6 whoopin' Euros for it due to a bargaining done right while I was on my Madrid trip!
Golden Gal - Another one from the Madrid-ian books. Wearing light tank tops during backpacking trips is such a breeze and I've been in love with that golden ribbon scrunchy whenever the sun's out.
Allen kleuren van de regenboog - Yes to a K3 reference and yes to showing some queer love! #HappyPride, to you all!
I didn't buy this (but I should have) - I found this faux fur coat in Madrid and I can't believe I let it stay there. It is everything I've ever wanted; it's Aunt Selena in a coat.
Lestari, Arnhem - One of my Oma's friends owns the restaurant and it is amazing. There are some good Indonesian restaurants but this one actually tastes like Indonesian food made by an Indonesian person. Every time I eat there, I always try something new and each dish is so good! I highly recommend the Mpek-Mpek, Soto Ayam, Soto Betawi, Kare Ikan.
Amazing Oriental, Dukenburg, Nijmegen - Okay, so let's take a moment of silence for the fact that most Asian stores in the Netherlands are called Tokos (Indonesian for "store") and Oriental. Heavy stuff. Anyway, I do recommend their Pisang Goreng and their bubble tea actually tastes like what bubble tea should taste like. It tastes like Chatime, y'all.
A few months ago, I woke up in the Netherlands to news that there was a bombing in Surabaya. During the rest of the day, I constantly checked online to see if there were any updates. I found out that it was a family of suicide bombers, and that they were indeed terrorists. It was the first time I wasn't home during a monumental event. No one else seemed to know what was happening, and I felt very frustrated. I spent that afternoon sitting alone on campus, soaking up the sun and writing this poem. I hope you find solace in my words.
Surabaya, 1743 (2018)
It's everywhere and no where at the same time
If we can’t see it, how are we supposed to fight?
My grandfather was born in Surabaya,
but he lives in a small town twenty minutes away.
My best friend from home went to Church of Santa Maria,
but she’s in school waiting for her diploma.
Went online because my news is filtered media;
they say the terrorists had been to Syria -
as if that could explain the hysteria.
A little girl at the young age of nine.
Hair as dark as mine.
Eyes as hopeful as mine.
The same potential as mine.
But tell me why
she has to die
with a bomb strapped to her torso,
while i sit in a class listening to my professors?
We talk about terrorism in class
as if its not here,
something Other to fear.
But terrorism is not here or there,
it is not anywhere but within ourselves.
How can we blame someone else
when we are the ones murdering our kids;
the one’s we raised, bathed, and kissed?
We taught them how to think.
So how can we blame them
When they are willing to kill without so much as a blink?
Fear is easy when you can blame it on terror.
But what’s it gonna take for us to look in the mirror?
Life is a lottery
I have undeservingly won.
Kamu tidak sendiri
(You are not alone)
Kami tidak takut
(we are not scared)
Teror di Surabaya
(Terror in Surabaya)
Teror di rumah kita
(Terror in our homes)
Teror di dalam jiwa
(Terror in our souls)
For an explanation of what menjelang means, check out my first Menjelang Favorites post from last month. For the break down of everything I've been into the past month-ish, look no further. I don't know what it is but I feel like I go through music phases. In the winter time, I'm really in to indie and alt music. In the summer time, especially nearing my birthday (August 12th, hit your Leo girl up!!!), I get really in to hip-hop and R&B hype music. It's like my inner Insta Baddie shines through as it gets closer to my birthday. Not really, I think it's just my inner extra Leo shining through.
Enough about my zodiac sign. Here are some really cool things you should check out because I like them. Hope you find something new. Or at least just something to distract yourself with so you can forget the fact that we're all slaves to capitalism and social constructs for a while. Cool.
Marcel The Shell with Shoes On - Created by Jenny Slate and her (ex?) husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Marcel The Shell with Shoes On is a web series + kid's story book (I think). Marcel is a tiny shell and he goes around the house he lives, showing an unseen interviewer his life. It's adorable, it's incredibly witty, and oddly calming. It's so Pure.
The Incredible Jessica James (2017) - Got Netflix? Stream it. Don't got Netflix? Putlocker it. Jessica James is an incredible role model and I am constantly telling myself to emulate her. She's honest and she's beautiful and she's struggling in the way everyone struggles and she's an awesome writer so get with it.
Your Name (2016) - To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Japanese movies/TV shows. I've tried, but I Just Don't Get It. Plus, cis women are so hyper sexualized in Japanese culture that the characters in animation always sound super breathy and it's just weird and it makes me uncomfortable. But, if you can get passed that and you're looking for something beautifully illustrated and a crazy plot that makes you go ?!?!?!?!?! then Your Name is perfect. It's about love and space and time and it's kind of nuts but I like it, and the cheesiness of the love story.
Her (2013)- This movie was great and weird and intriguing and beautiful. Love is such a wild human concept in itself so to pair that up with technology is like double thinking for me and I love thinking about societal concepts and the protagonists challenges just that. Coolio. I cried, if that makes it any more convincing.
Health documentaries on food (What The Health + That Sugar Film.) - These documentaries were so eye-opening. The food industry has been a hot topic on my mind for the last month because it's crazy. Yet another thing that the government has manipulated in the name of capitalism and we as members of the market are so blind that we sit there like zombies while we are literally trashing our bodies. To make matters worst, consumerism has been ingrained so deeply into our culture that it's unnatural to go vegan or to cut out refined sugar. Even the products that are marketed to be healthy/low fat/sugar-free are damaging!! Not to mention the ecological impact the food industry has. We really need to get educated on this and real fast too so we can stop romanticizing the foods that are essentially hurting us.
Youtube Videos -
Viners truly do suck but Enya is hilarious and her little rant is so entertaining, especially since everything she spews out is the literal truth.
Just watch it. You'll get it.
PRETTYMUCH - (Gossip Girl voice) New Boyband Alert! Word on the street Simon Cowell's got a new group of talented boys to fill the void One Direction left. Okay, back to Sel voice now. Not to be dramatic but I'm in love. Kidding. Not really. They've got major talent and they dance. With hip hop and R&B influences, It Boy hypeskater styles, and the fact that they're 3/5 POC will probably take them to the top. Also the fact that I can't seem to choose a fav to stan is really concerning. Anyways, their new single called Would You Mind is a consensual bop!
Billie Eilish - This girl. Hoooooooo my god, where do I even start?? I love teenage girls who make music with simple lyrics, deep themes, and dark undertones. Eilish talks about self-love (or lack thereof) in idontwanttobeyouanymore, romantic love (and lack thereof) in Party Favor, murdering her friends and her lover (which is probably a metaphor for violently cutting them out of her life) in Bellyache. She recently released her EP, Dont Smile at Me, and it's a freaking masterpiece. Listen to it. I love her.
MY PLAYLIST VIDEO!!! IS LIT!!! WATCH & LISTEN TO IT!!! -
Meet Me in The Cosmos by Jack Cheng - It's middle-grade Lit and I've only gotten a few pages in but it's already made me actually giggle out loud more than the other stuff I read. Told in transcripts of voice recordings eleven year old Alex makes, Cheng explores life on Earth through his protagonist who is very passionate about outer space and rockets.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas explores the current racial climate in America. Starr, the protagonist, witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend (done by a cop). Thomas also explores the two worlds Starr has to manoeuvre between as she goes to a fancy prep school but lives in a poor neighbourhood.
Spiderman: Homecoming fanfiction - Don't shame fanfiction. It's just as much art as mainstream literature. My favorite's Leyla's (spidereyhes on Tumblr) Skyline. There's so much on Tumblr and Archives of Our Own. My favorite AU is Stark!Reader x Peter Parker for obvious reasons.
Solid colors - I'm always in black. Always. I wore what I used to think was the ugliest greenest shirt I own. I ended up liking it. A mission of mine is to now be more in to colors. (Also I think I'm just succumbing to the current It Alt Artsy Skater Girl trend).
Fishnet socks - The fishnet tights trend is cute and all but let's be real here, sitting on a chair and having your butt press up against netting the whole day isn't cute. The socks are an easier alternative. They're not uncomfortable but still present themselves just to add a little edgy pizzazz. Yes, I just said the word pizzazz. Well, typed.
Cauliflower rice - My parents have been doing the Keto diet so they've been trying to find rice substitutes. My mom ended up making this cauliflower rice and it turned out sooooo good. It's a vegan substitute, too! Here's the recipe she used since I love you and I want to include you in this cool meal.
Vegan Cookie Dough - Cookie dough is amazing. Vegan cookie dough is even more amazing. If you live in the Jakarta/Tangerang area, @kookie.do is on Instagram and they've got the best vegan cookie dough that you definitely need to try out.
Menjelang is an Indonesian word with a few English translations, including 'approaching', 'towards', and 'near'. It gives a sense of almost, with an underlying promise that it will be. I always scribble my favorites down on random scraps of papers and notebooks midway through the end and the beginning of two different months. Most of the time my favorites are things that are still very new to my life (songs with lyrics I still need to memorize, books I still need to finish), but that's because discovering excites me. It is my favorite thing. This combined with the fact that I think I am utterly uninteresting, these lists are usually disregarded quickly. But I'm learning how to have enough confidence to share.
Before 99 Days, it had been a while since I picked up a book and read more than a few pages. Prior to this 366-paged read, I was buried in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Catcher in The Rye, which was 6 months ago. Cotugno’s straightforward read eased me right into that world of living another life through words on bound paper. Don’t be fooled, although it is an easy read, it’s no where near simple. Without spoiling anything, the story is about Molly Barlow, who comes home for her pre-college summer after finishing senior year at a boarding school. She sent herself away after her town finds out about her affair with her ex boyfriend’s brother all because her mother wrote a book and explicitly said in People’s magazine that it was inspired by her daughter, Molly. The people of Molly’s small town found out and hasn’t stopped hating her ever since.
© Selena Soemakno. All rights served unless stated otherwise.