Between the World and Me

Reviewed by Deane Barker tags: race

This might be the Whitest thing I could ever say, but I just didn’t get it. I understand the point of this book – it’s a cry of protest, meant to be a reminder of how far we have to go as a society in terms of racial equity, lest we get too impressed with ourselves.

Stylistically, the book can be a tough read. It’s written as a letter to the author’s 15-year-old son. It’s almost a stream of consciousness rambling. Lots of long, long sentences. The author is clearly trying to be poetic, but I feel like the writing just got in the way. I think you’d have to be a certain mindset to make sense of it all.

Coates is trying to take the cultural place of James Baldwin (and an endorsement from Toni Morrison makes that explicit claim). The book is clearly an attempt at being Very Profound. At some point, I think the author realized he was writing a Very Important Book, and seemed to take a lot of license from that.

If I can come up with some takeaways, I did find interesting how Coates kept discussing the “Black body.” In fact, he makes a distinct point to separate the person from the body. He talks about how the world is at war with the Black body, and how White America wants to control and ultimately take his son’s Black body.

I also found interesting the phrase “people who believe they are White.” I gathered from a quote later in the book that this came from Baldwin too. I feel like I need to read Baldwin to understand this idea.

Early in the book, the author brings up Michael Brown a couple of times, which I didn’t think was a good idea, since there’s a lot of evidence that Brown was shot in self-defense. But then later in the book, the author circles back and indicates that he apparently knows that Brown was assaulting a police officer, but that he shouldn’t have been sentenced to death on the spot.

After reading this, I wonder if there are any circumstances that would make the author happy? I realize he’s angry, and he was condemned me for being White (or believing that I’m White or whatever). Can I rise above this? I got the feeling from the book that I’m simply irredeemable because I’m White, and that I will never understand Blackness or be able to make the Black community whole again.

There’s a quote in the book from the mother who’s son was killed by someone for playing music too loud. The mother said something to the author’s son, and it ended with “…and you have the right to play your music as loud as you want.” I read this, and I was thinking, “Well, no you don’t. No one has the ‘right’ to do that because you’re infringing on the rights of other people at that point.”

It was at this moment that I realized I was never going to “get” the book.

Book Info

Ta-Nehisi Coates
06 18, 2022
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on December 23, 2015.
  • A hardcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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