Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
I really struggled to understand this book. It was so foreign. That was kind of the point though. Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing to his son about his struggle to understand what I means to live in his black body. I struggled to understand his struggle.
The book is written in a long, flowing letter. It reads like a memoir at times, but more philosophical at other points. It touches on some elements of history, like the Civil War, but most references are to brutal police killings of black men.
I had to read this book in complete silence. The writing is beautiful, but it’s hard to follow. I kept reading and tried to focus on understanding the overall message, versus the individual sentences. Although there were many amazing statements throughout the book.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, an affluent, black writer, fears for his body and the body of his son. He points out that the huge divide in our country is not between the rich and the poor, but between those who are black and those who believe themselves to be white. I was blind to this point before reading this book. I naively assumed that black people who escaped the inner city escaped the violence against them. The continual police murders are showing that this is not the case. It is dangerous to be black everywhere in this country.
What I could relate to was his separateness as an atheist and his love for his son. The things he says and the stories he recounts from his son’s childhood make it apparent how much he loves his boy.
I see why John Green said all young people should read this book. And I’m glad that I read it. For its value to our society, I gave it 4 stars even though it wasn’t what I’d call an enjoyable read.
What I want to know now is how do we fix our country? Where do we start?
Somewhere out there beyond the firmament, past the asteroid belt, there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies. I knew this because there was a large television resting in my living room bearing witness to the dispatches from this other world.
My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.
There was before you, and there was after, and in this after, you were the God I’d never had. I submitted before your needs, and I knew then that I must survive for something more than survival’s sake. I must survive for you.
You must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all.
Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made.
But the price of error is higher for you than it is for your countrymen, and so that America might justify itself, the story of a black body’s destruction must always begin with his or her error, real or imagined.
It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country.
And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.
I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.