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Getting Real with Social Impact and What I Learned from "Between the World and Me"

July 13, 2018

“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” 

― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

 

I was working as a whitewater raft guide one summer in Glacier National Park (Montana). One day my raft got into a large swell of water at the wrong angle and I was toppled into the rapids. I remember seeing my paddle and feet in the air, then all was water and its roaring like a passing train. Immediately, I was being tumbled around like laundry on a never-ending cycle. I couldn't get any air and couldn't get to the surface. Finally, I emerged and was next to a much older woman who must have had a similar experience. Her husband was still in the raft, now stuck in a some back water on the opposite shore.  Her face was frozen in shock and the next rapid was quickly approaching.

 

 

Reading Coates' Between the World and Me was a similar experience.  I felt submerged into a new world which had its own roaring sound all around me, but not like a passing train, more like the sound of a people's unified, if muffled, voice.  As a white man dedicated to using business to the maximum beneficial social effect, this book was a welcome, powerful, and humbling reminder of how little I know about the problems and people I hope to understand and serve. Indeed, A. O. Scott of