Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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.
This review is going to be a little different from my usual reviews. I generally talk about the book and it’s merits and pitfalls. But while writing this review, I noticed I had a lot more to say about the way the book made me feel than the actual book. This book was incredibly written and I highly recommend it and I might do a more traditional review later. But I wanted to talk more about other aspects as well. So without further ado, let’s discus this book!
I am very obviously not the target of this work. It’s a letter to his adolescent, black son, while I’m a 21-year old white woman. That being said, I think it’s really important to read books that are not intended for you. They help you see things in a different lens and understand others’ point of view. Further, I think in a way, this books is meant (indirectly) for white people.
The only way I can understand a black person’s perspective is by listening to what they have to say. I realized reading this book that though I may be affected by events like [the police case here], I will never truly be affected by them. I can be mad and upset and frustrated at the injustices present, but it will never really be anything more than that. In my society and my reality, I will never have to hear that my kind are being targeted by police without any retribution.
I think it’s important to realize things like that. I would never want anyone to feel that way, and reading Coates’ impression of his son’s feelings reinforced to me that this (police brutality and systemic racism) are huge issues in society that need to dealt with. I have always been on the Black Lives Matter side of the movement, and I always will be. Reading this book made me remember that I will never truly be able to understand why it is so important.
And that is so important. In social justice movements, it’s so important to remember that just because something isn’t an issue to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t an issue to everyone. I can’t call myself a feminist or an activist if I only fight for what benefits me. We can only truly advance as a society if we lift up everyone rather than bring others down.
As a white person, I need my white privilege called out every once in a while. And this book did that in such a great way.
Have you read this book? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Any thoughts similar to mine?
Thanks for reading!!