Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House), 2015
Genre: Nonfiction, essay
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I would definitely revisit this one someday
Reviewed by Pete
Written as a letter from father to son, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me examines the issues faced by African Americans both today and in recent history. This was written in 2015; in the past two years, it feels as though racial tensions in the U.S. have only increased and Coates’s fears and arguments have become even more relevant.
Toward the beginning of the book, Coates explains that race is a concept invented to create “otherness” and to attach innate qualities of character to groups of people of the same race. There are no white people, only “people who believe themselves white.”
I am a person who believes myself white. I remember learning about the idea that race is not a real way to differentiate people—that it is simply a way to explain similar physical characteristics and ancestry—and I haven’t been able to see it any other way since. I do believe in the existence of cultures, however—and African American culture, rather than the black race, is the main subject of Coates’s arguments.
Coates’s writing is concise and powerful, and it’s made up of equal parts personal experience and reflection. He makes arguments I haven’t heard before, and he allows the reader, especially the white reader, to see African American life and culture in new ways. If you, like me and have no personal experiences to compare to Coates’s, you may find yourself seeing the struggle of black people in America in a new way. I have never grasped the fear that African Americans live in, and I never will. But Coates has found a way to write for all readers—for his son, for black people, for white people, or for anyone who believes themselves to belong to a race.