Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
You are unlikely to read a more important book about race this year. Coates' letter to his 15-year-old son is provocative, upsetting, inspiring, and, like any passionate argument, an emotional roller coaster ride. It is the beginning, not the end of a much needed conversation.
We all bring a lifetime of experiences to whatever book we read. I read Between the World and Me, keeping in mind that I am the father of a black son. My wife is also black. Being a white father, I cannot pass on the experiences of being a black man in America. As a member of white society, I can walk blithely through life unaware of the biases and profiling that affects my own family.
Between the World and Me is a memoir, written in the form of a letter to the writer’s fifteen-year-old son. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a black father, and in this book he relates his own experiences of growing up black in America. Sometimes he is quite angry – rightfully so – and his narrative is always personal and emotionally powerful. He’s not just talking about slavery and the subjugation of the African-American people, but the fact that America’s success was built on the backs of these people.
He uses direct quotes to dispute dangerous ideas, such as the Civil War not being fought over slavery. Coates covers institutional racism, and how most of us are deluded by this idea of whiteness, also known as “the American Dream”. There is a lot to digest in just over one-hundred and fifty pages, especially for those of us only familiar with the winner’s interpretation of history.
Every once in a while, a book deserves the exalted status it’s being given, and Between the World and Me is one of those books.