Ta-Nehise Coates’ book Between the World and Me clocks in at a cool 150-some pages, but packs a punch like none ever seen before. The book reads like a philosopher’s stream-of-consciousness late-night writing, but the text is written as such for a reason: to make an impact. To stay with us. To keep us returning to it. To change us.
Recent years have made Coates a household name. As a writer for the Atlantic, he wrote “A Case for Reparations,” one of the most talked about magazine piece in the last decade. But Between the World and Me has made Coates a celebrity in his own right.
The book is framed as a three part, six chapter letter to Coates’ son, Samori, about the shameful not-so-secret history of America and why the continual struggle of African Americans rages on amidst a public that is complicit in creating the struggle. Inspired by his son’s traumatized reaction to the news that the police officer who shot and murdered Missouri teenager Michael Brown in the summer of 2014, Coates writes about himself, his family and what it means to be black in America.
With a thoughtfulness that is his trademark, the book is told in episodes of Coates life. From his time at Howard University, a place he lovingly calls The Mecca, to the murder of classmate Prince Jones at the hands of police, to his marriage and his thrust into fatherhood, each episode feels real in your hands. When Coates describes a heated confrontation with a middle-aged white woman who pushed a 4 year-old Samori off an escalator in a rush, you feel his rage when he’s confronted by a crowd who defends the woman but didn’t defend his son.
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this book in the middle of an ethical emergency in America, in which he attempt to expose the American absurdity of preaching peaceful revolution while waging a war against its very citizens on the streets. He calls this The Dream–The Dream is “perfect houses and nice lawns….The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.” The Dream is so deeply entrenched in white supremacy and Coates wants to shake us all free from it.
If anyone should read this book, it is Americans. While much of book talks about Coates’ personal lack of faith, it sits in the tenuous place of knowing that while others will reject it, many will read it and it will resonate with them. They will feel empathy. They will connect with this father who puts his parental love for all to see, a deeply profound feeling that many of experience as a child and then again as a parent. They will know and change.
You can purchase Between the World and Me on Amazon. (I strongly urge you to buy it if you can because you will want to take notes in it.)