Bookbed reviews: ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

by Jodesz Gavilan

THE STORY

“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. Available in bookstores nationwide / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

“You are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country. What I want you to know is that this is not your fault, even if it is ultimately your responsibility.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his son about what it means to black in America, to live in a country where your body is at the mercy of the state, where violence waits for you in every corner.

Fear is palpable in the pages—from his childhood in a Baltimore neighborhood, where survival meant walking on egg shells most of the time, to his years in Howard University where he thrived among like-minded individuals. But fear took another meaning when he became a father, afraid that his experiences growing up will be the same as his son’s. The system that undermined his identity and made him vulnerable to violence still runs, after all.

He wrote that the abolition of slavery did not end the violence, but still rested on the hands of the police. This is why living in fear meant surviving. To live within one’s self is a Black American’s responsibility, made possible by a trigger-happy state.

Coates’ letter to his son, in some instances, read like a desperate plea. To be careful, to be mindful, to be hyper aware of your place in society, as determined by the descendants of slave owners who now run the country. But it is also an acknowledgement that there will be times when things will be out of your control, no matter how hard you try.

Coates also confronted the Dream, an image reminiscent of a white middle class suburb, and why this remained to be the “ideal” scenario for all, including minorities such as him. The Dream, he argued, will never be accepting of Black Americans, even if it is built entirely on their backs. It is a realization that the “ideal life” in America will always be at the expense of minorities.

tl;dr

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a good and relevant read, benefiting from the author’ life experiences and the historical context, which may as well be put in the present tense because it continues to happen today.

☁️

This review is originally published @jodeszgavilan on Instagram. Follow her for more book recommendations. Read our Review Policy here.

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