Brief Thoughts | Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Recently, I finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a short book and reads fast. A letter to his son, Coates’ voice is intense and direct.

I’m still processing Coates’ message. I admit that I find it distinct from my own life experience, a view of America and the world rooted far from my own. Where I grew up in largely homogenous communities, often in rural parts of the west, Coates is a child of the black inner city of the coast. His book is a personal narrative, a recasting of American history as resting on the backs of African slave labor, the sting and oppression which has never quite left our country, the plunder of which continues to bolster the children of our oppressor ancestors.

The son of a minority religious group–at least until I moved to Utah–there are moments when I can sympathize with the affinity he found at Howard University, a place where he finds for the first time the books to explain his culture, his past, his history, and a multimillennial explanation of the oppression of the African race. Like many of us, he begins to discover that he can become something more, that the ability to write taught him by his mother can become a tool for an inquiry into the world. With this…coming of age?…in the world during college I am able to find some empathy, for I too found people who understood me for the first time when I left home to attend college. But it is a tenuous connection. Coates story remains, for me, almost an anthropological look into a world that is very, very different from my own. It is familiar and yet alien.

And so I’m still processing it.

Have you read Between the World and Me, yet? What was your experience?

If not, have you heard of the book and intend to read it?

Between the World and Me Book Cover Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
July 14, 2015

“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.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.