The mariner is not a native Iowan. He is from Baltimore, Maryland and the surrounding area. He spent all but two of his teen years living in a small lower class community tucked in between a glass factory and a garbage dump. Two of his friends went to prison for long sentences; one friend supported two children and a useless mother by working as a prostitute; one friend from a contiguous working class neighborhood is a bright linguist that became a lifelong friend; many friends were using heroin before it had a media presence; gang fights between African Americans and Caucasians were common.
Later, in his thirties, the mariner became a parole officer. He had a special caseload of thirty-five transvestites. All but three were African American. They qualified for the case load because they were transvestites and drug dependent and had active arrest records. All had arrest records for prostitution and misdemeanors that reflected tough neighborhoods and interpersonal conflicts related to their sexual difficulties.
A couple of years later, the mariner was appointed to the Baltimore County Commission on Drug Abuse. A new commission, its goal was to establish drug rehabilitation legislation and treatment programs for the County.
It is with this background that the mariner eventually moved to Iowa. He became aware that Iowans and many Plains State citizens have no way to reference the reality of lower class, African American, inner-city people (and whites…and Hispanics…and Vietnamese and…). Iowans are good-hearted folks. Many are disciplined workers whose great grandparents emigrated from Germany and surrounding middle-European countries. In the earliest years of American independence, before the Louisiana Purchase, French immigrants moved in from Canada to live among the Native Americans.
There are African Americans in Iowa today but they do not constitute a visual presence in the all-white culture. Racism in Iowa is not an issue that rises to political awareness or neighborhood/town segregation. Racism is present in Iowa but not predominately and not because of direct interaction. To the extent that it exists, racism in Iowa truly is an adopted prejudice.
Iowa ranks at the top of states with a singular economic culture; it is farming. Even manufacturing in Iowa does not roam far from farming. A subgroup of farming production in Iowa still uses immigrant workers on its farms. This is not the African American inner-city experience. Without question, immigrants on farms could write their own discordant history but it is different.
The mariner offers a resource for Iowans to gain an insight into the African American experience. He offers an African American author who grew up in that environment. The author is an excellent writer who writes and speaks of the African American experience with poetic understanding, intellectual observation and is able to project the living experience of his youth. This writer does not have the typical edge to his writing that pundits and advocates would have. He provides information intended to enlighten readers to the African American experience. That is his only motive.
As one example, his observation of the recent spate of shootings and abuse by police departments says that the fault is not with the police departments, who are taking the brunt of public reaction but rather the citizens of the communities. He says the police department the community wants is the police department it gets. Whether obtained through racial bias – or by indifference from not voting – the police department works for elected officials.
The mariner recommends you read deeply in his bibliography and follow his blog on The Atlantic magazine website where there are several videos as well.
“Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American writer, journalist, and educator. Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, and blogger for that publication’s website where he writes about cultural, social and political issues. Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications. In 2008 he published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. He joined the City University of New York as its journalist-in-residence in the fall of 2014.” (from The Atlantic website)