Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Between the World and Me," by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Please read this book! “Between the World and Me” (Spiegel & Grau, 2015) is Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ powerful, wrenching, heartbreaking letter to his fifteen-year-old son about race in America, and specifically about the lives of black Americans. There is a strong element of memoir, as Coates writes of his own poor and sometimes frightening childhood in Baltimore, of his years at Howard University (which he calls his “Mecca”), of his becoming a great reader and then a writer, of the still pervasive bone-deep knowledge of racism and its consequences, and of his fears for his son. Even as a “survivor” who didn’t get killed and didn’t get jailed, and who has become a successful writer, he has observed and experienced the pain and the dangers of being a black man in the United States. Besides his own story, Coates writes of many black leaders and writers, of the stories of other young black men, of the liberation he felt when he traveled to France, and of his interview with the mother of his Howard friend who was killed by a police officer, among other subjects. There are so many powerful sentences in this short book, but just to provide an example: “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, and the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear” (p. 17). And now he and his son live in the age of Trayvon Martin and all the other “destruction of black bodies” (p. 44). This book is despairing, but there are notes of hope as well, as every parent must hope against hope that his child, and all the children, will have safer, better lives. Seriously, please read this book.
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