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
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