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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


I finished Coates’ Between the World and Me a few days before I learned about the two latest cases of policemen brutality toward African American men. We had planned a different review for today but instead, but with these latest killings, I thought this book was more appropriate. Everyone needs to read this book.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published: 2015
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here: Between the World and Me

It’s hard for me to put my feelings into words. I’ve spent a good portion of the last few days in a daze. I watched the two videos of the shootings and sobbed as I watched a 4-year old child sit in the back of her car while watching while her mother’s boyfriend died in the front seat, shot and killed by a police officer. I’m a white woman. I’ve never felt constant fear of the police, never worried about being stopped for a traffic violation, never felt the need to teach my child to act in specific ways in order to avoid being killed by a police officer. In contrast, as a black man, Coates has lived his life with all those fears and worries.

Between the World and Me was inspired by James Baldwin’s essay The Fire Next Time, written in 1962. Both books are written as letters to the authors’ 15 year old family members (a nephew and a son) and both contain advice to these young men about how to navigate the world as black men. However, Baldwin’s version is full of hope and potential about the role his son can play in making his country a better place whereas Coates’ version is more bleak.  Coates doesn’t sugarcoat or write with the intend of inspiring hope. He writes,

I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone’s grandmother, on the side of a road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.

Coates goes on to raise many critical questions, most centered around the concept of the American Dream and how it impacts the lives of young black men.

The Dream is treehouses and Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

Between the World and Me is only 152 pages but it is dense and packed with important ideas and thoughts. It is a book that takes time and reflection and can’t be read in one or two days. I found myself highlighting most of the book and having to take it one page at a time. Coates discusses education, violence, family, justice, and many other topics in his short book. At times it reads like an academic essay and at others like a heartfelt letter to his son with the emotions oozing from the pages. He doesn’t intend to provide comfort to his son (or to his readers) but rather encourages him (and us) to question his world and recognize the struggle that will be a necessary part of his life.

And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of the Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle for themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.

I chose to watch the videos of the shootings because I felt strongly about the need to experience the ugly reality of the violence and fear, to experience a tiny portion of what many black people in America feel every day when they leave their homes or when they watch their children grow in a world that is stacked against them. I have the privilege to watch the news, shake my head, and continue to live my life without the fear and anger.

I woke up this morning to the news of the police officers in Dallas who were shot and killed during the protests. I was saddened but not surprised. I don’t believe that police officers are evil. I think most are men and women who put their lives at risk every day to serve and protect their communities but I also feel that if we continue to allow the bad ones to kill minorities without cause or consequence we will continue to see people acting out in violence. Violence exists because people feel like they have no other recourse.

Read Between the World and Me. Read it because it’s profound and enlightening. Read it because it’s well-written, emotional, and intelligence. Read it because it can give you insight into todays current events. Read it and discuss it with your friends and family.

You can find your copy here: Between the World and Me

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tessa #

    Excellent review

    Liked by 1 person

    July 8, 2016
  2. Gail #

    Ahh Thank you for finding the words. I also feel as if everyone in America should read this book now to understand further what has been happening this week. I also am what is called white but I have close young family that do not know what they are called, but will be known to the world as African American. In reading this book I was given such a clear insight into the struggle that my family will face unless there is real change in this world. Coates is able to weave his own life story and his own generation’s fears without setting limits on his son’s life. While pleading to his son that he must know his father’s fear to survive in this world, he is also aware his son is not him and did not grow up in his father’s world. The tension this creates in the book is very impactful. In reading, one wants the son to go beyond his father’s fears and yet, you are left with some despair that this is not possible. And Dallas, Dallas can not be the answer.

    Liked by 3 people

    July 8, 2016
    • maybe Dallas can be the answer. Maybe it’s finally going to get something through somebody’s head. I know what can’t happen … we can’t continue to sit idly by wringing our hands every time this happens.


      July 8, 2016
  3. Beautifully said Jen. I keep thinking about the coincidence of timing of everybody reading this book this month, but then I realize it could have been any month and it would feel relevant. I’ve read this book twice, I feel like I need to read it again. Or I need to read Malcolm X again because I don’t think we can understand this problem enough. and it’s ALWAYS a good reminder to have fresh in your mind so when you hear that racist comment (innocent or not) you can do something other than bristle. We are still raising racist kids. We have to make it stop.

    Liked by 2 people

    July 8, 2016
  4. I’ve asked my local library to buy this book. There is a similar issue for young black men in cities in the UK. Less risk of death, but it does happen. More regularly young black men are stopped and searched for no valid reason. Their lives are lived as suspects. Just because of the colour of their skin. We see the stories from America. People in the UK need to read this book and see the parallels. I hope my library buys it. I’ll buy it for myself at some point, but I thought it important to get it into at least one library in Manchester.

    Liked by 2 people

    July 8, 2016
    • I’m picking this up on Thursday! I had a message this morning that the library has purchased and reserved it for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 12, 2016
      • Now that’s good library service. I’ll be curious to see what you think of it.


        July 12, 2016
  5. Tracy S. #

    Beautiful review, Jen!
    What hit me so hard about this book is that every male that is not pink/peach tinted runs the risk of being hurt by just stepping out the door. It still makes me cry to think that my friends’ children have been raised in fear, just because of how they look. That is so wrong.
    This book should be mandatory reading for any citizen, but I’m afraid there are way too many that would be offended, because it makes them step out of the safety of their narrow worldview. And that makes me cry again.
    More than anything, this book inspires me to ask myself, and others, what I can do to make this world a better place. That, to me, is an important book.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 9, 2016
  6. This book moved me. Coates wrote with such compassion and understanding, a hard thing to do when his subject was often anger, justified anger. What struck me most about it was not just the wonderful writing, but the intent: that if only we can bring more people to understand each other, we can all bring change. Sometimes I feel like I real a lot of writing that acts like people can never understand each others’ plights. I think that’s crazy, because the hallmark of the highest caliber of writing is that it allows the reader to step into someone else’s shoes, to UNDERSTAND what it is like to be them. This book did that in a big way.

    I hope more people read it. I don’t want any of the people I love to have to live in fear.

    Liked by 2 people

    July 10, 2016
  7. Clearly an important book whose importance has just been escalated by recent events


    July 11, 2016
  8. I’m on a book buying ban but this seems more than just another book. Thank You for the review – it’s always good to hear people speak on these topics and show support when they may not experience it first hand themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 12, 2016

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