“Between the World and Me” is required reading for all! With his great mastery of language Ta-Nehisi Coates gives voice to the reality of racial oppression in America. He turns the poetic into sarcasm and biting analysis but never eradicates beauty from his prose as he talks about the love for his son, the admiration for his wife, and the irrepressible living hope for his people. His impressionistic style weaves a tapestry of images that blend his youth with the reality of survival in the street and integrate his maturation and intellectual development with the vast canon of black thought and intellectualism.
The book contains three essays or letters to his son in which Coates narrates his story, his life as a black person in America. The black body has always carried and still carries the burden of the American Dream and is under ceaseless threat of destruction as exemplified in numerous accounts in the book of police brutality or the more subtle but no less insidious encounters with white privilege. It is a narrative of growing up in and slowly waking up to oppression, but also one of learning to move from coping strategies to deliberate acts of freedom. Coates ends with the sober conclusion that waiting for the conversion of the dreamers, those who invented and enjoy white privilege, is futile. And with it, the end of the book has a surprising ecological turn. But he also turns to the celebration of black life, black beauty, black power, and black identity in his attempt to instill in his son both vigilance coupled with realism as well as hope connected with determination.
Coates provides us not with a scholarly analysis as much as a view from the inside as though it were almost possible to experience what Coates experienced and to learn to see with different eyes as Coates did. His ceaseless focus on the black body as the locus of oppression is done with the one underlying axiom that race is not the father of racism but the product of it.
But as it is then, so it is now. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for white privilege to enter the truth. As it was with Jesus Christ so it will be with the prophetic words of this black atheist. Hearing they will remain deaf and seeing they will remain blind. This is because the message of this book requires repentance of one’s personal implication in the marred history of racism and conversion to the truth and beauty of blackness. And for most this is an impossible road.