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“Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Really powerful and emotional.”—John Legend, The Wall Street Journal
“Extraordinary . . . [Coates] writes an impassioned letter to his teenage son—a letter both loving and full of a parent’s dread—counseling him on the history of American violence against the black body, the young African-American’s extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.”—David Remnick, The New Yorker
“Brilliant . . . a riveting meditation on the state of race in America . . . [Coates] is firing on all cylinders, and it is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers at the very moment national events most conform to his vision.”—The Washington Post
“An eloquent blend of history, reportage, and memoir written in the tradition of James Baldwin with echoes of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man . . . It is less a typical memoir of a particular time and place than an autobiography of the black body in America. . . . Coates writes with tenderness, especially of his wife, child, and extended family, and with frankness. . . . Coates’s success, in this book and elsewhere, is due to his lucidity and innate dignity, his respect for himself and for others. He refuses to preach or talk down to white readers or to plead for acceptance: He never wonders why we just can’t all get along. He knows government policies make getting along near impossible.”—The Boston Globe
“For someone who proudly calls himself an atheist, Coates gives us a whole lot of ‘Can I get an amen?’ in this slim and essential volume of familial joy and rigorous struggle. . . . [He] has become the most sought-after public intellectual on the issue of race in America, with good reason. Between the World and Me . . . is at once a magnification and a distillation of our existence as black people in a country we were not meant to survive. It is a straight tribute to our strength, endurance and grace. . . . [Coates] speaks resolutely and vividly to all of black America.”—Los Angeles Times
“A crucial book during this moment of generational awakening.”—The New Yorker
“A work that’s both titanic and timely, Between the World and Me is the latest essential reading in America’s social canon.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Coates delivers a beautiful lyrical call for consciousness in the face of racial discrimination in America. . . . Between the World and Me is in the same mode of The Fire Next Time; it is a book designed to wake you up. . . . An exhortation against blindness.”—The Guardian
“Coates has crafted a deeply moving and poignant letter to his own son. . . . [His] book is a compelling mix of history, analysis and memoir. Between the World and Me is a much-needed artifact to document the times we are living in [from] one of the leading public intellectuals of our generation. . . . The experience of having a sage elder speak directly to you in such lyrical, gorgeous prose—language bursting with the revelatory thought and love of black life—is a beautiful thing.”—The Root
“Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away.”—Newsday
“Poignant, revelatory and exceedingly wise, Between the World and Me is an essential clarion call to our collective conscience. We ignore it at our own peril.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Masterfully written . . . powerful storytelling.”—New York Post
“One of the most riveting and heartfelt books to appear in some time . . . The book achieves a level of clarity and eloquence reminiscent of Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man. . . . The perspective [Coates] brings to American life is one that no responsible citizen or serious scholar can safely ignore.”—Foreign Affairs
“Urgent, lyrical, and devastating in its precision, Coates has penned a new classic of our time.”—Vogue
“A work of rare beauty and revelatory honesty . . . Between the World and Me is a love letter written in a moral emergency, one that Coates exposes with the precision of an autopsy and the force of an exorcism. . . . Coates is frequently lauded as one of America’s most important writers on the subject of race today, but this in fact undersells him: Coates is one of America’s most important writers on the subject of America today. . . . [He’s] a polymath whose breadth of knowledge on matters ranging from literature to pop culture to French philosophy to the Civil War bleeds through every page of his book, distilled into profound moments of discovery, immensely erudite but never showy.”—Slate
“The most important book I’ve read in years . . . an illuminating, edifying, educational, inspiring experience.”—Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
“It’s an indescribably enlightening, enraging, important document about being black in America today. Coates is perhaps the best we have, and this book is perhaps the best he’s ever been.”—Deadspin
“Vital reading at this moment in America.”—U.S. News & World Report
“[Coates] has crafted a highly provocative, thoughtfully presented, and beautifully written narrative. . . . Much of what Coates writes may be difficult for a majority of Americans to process, but that’s the incisive wisdom of it. Read it, think about it, take a deep breath and read it again. The spirit of James Baldwin lives within its pages.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Part memoir, part diary, and wholly necessary, it is precisely the document this country needs right now.”—New Republic
“A moving testament to what it means to be black and an American in our troubled age . . . Between the World and Me feels of-the-moment, but like James Baldwin’s celebrated 1963 treatise The Fire Next Time, it stands to become a classic on the subject of race in America.”—The Seattle Times
“Riveting . . . Coates delivers a fiery soliloquy dissecting the tradition of the erasure of African-Americans beginning with the deeply personal.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[Between the World and Me] is not a Pollyanna, coming-of-age memoir about how idyllic life was growing up in America. It is raw. It is searing. . . . [It’s] a book that should be read and shared by everyone, as it is a story that painfully and honestly explores the age-old question of what it means to grow up black and male in America.”—The Baltimore Sun
“A searing indictment of America’s legacy of violence, institutional and otherwise, against blacks.”—Chicago Tribune
“I know that this book is addressed to the author’s son, and by obvious analogy to all boys and young men of color as they pass, inexorably, into harm’s way. I hope that I will be forgiven, then, for feeling that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking to me, too, one father to another, teaching me that real courage is the courage to be vulnerable, to admit having fallen short of the mark, to stay open-hearted and curious in the face of hate and lies, to remain skeptical when there is so much comfort in easy belief, to acknowledge the limits of our power to protect our children from harm and, hardest of all, to see how the burden of our need to protect becomes a burden on them, one that we must, sooner or later, have the wisdom and the awful courage to surrender.”—Michael Chabon
“Ta-Nehisi Coates is the James Baldwin of our era, and this is his cri de coeur. A brilliant thinker at the top of his powers, he has distilled four hundred years of history and his own anguish and wisdom into a prayer for his beloved son and an invocation to the conscience of his country. Between the World and Me is an instant classic and a gift to us all.”—Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
. . . we sprawl in gray chains in a place full of winters when what we want is the sun
Amira Baraka, “Ka Ba”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
There is nothing extreme in this statement. Americans deify democracy in a way that allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God. But democracy is a forgiving God and America’s heresies—torture, theft, enslavement—are so common among individuals and nations that none can declare themselves immune. In fact, Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God. When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he was not merely being aspirational; at the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people” to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. Thus America’s problem is not its betrayal of “government of the people,” but the means by which “the people” acquired their names.
This leads us to another equally important ideal, one that Americans implicitly accept but to which they make no conscious claim. Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.
But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of this new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.
These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something else before they were white—Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish—and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again. Perhaps they will truly become American and create a nobler basis for their myths. I cannot call it. As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.
The new people are not original in this. Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it. But this banality of violence can never excuse America, because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names. But you and I have never truly had that luxury. I think you know.
I write you in your fifteenth year. 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. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.
There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.
That Sunday, with that host, on that news show, I tried to explain this as best I could within the time allotted. But at the end of the segment, the host flashed a widely shared picture of an eleven-year-old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer. Then she asked me about “hope.” And I knew then that I had failed. And I remembered that I had expected to fail. And I wondered again at the indistinct sadness welling up in me. Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm December day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the 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. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.
That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.
This must seem strange to you. We live in a “goal-oriented” era. Our media vocabulary is full of hot takes, big ideas, and grand theories of everything. But some time ago I rejected magic in all its forms. This rejection was a gift from your grandparents, who never tried to console me with ideas of an afterlife and were skeptical of preordained American glory. In accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, I was freed to truly consider how I wished to live—specifically, how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men. I have asked the question through my reading and writings, through the music of my youth, through arguments with your grandfather, with your mother, your aunt Janai, your uncle Ben. I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile. The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and girded me against the sheer terror of disembodiment.
And I am afraid. I feel the fear most acutely whenever you leave me. But I was afraid long before you, and in this I was unoriginal. When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid. I had seen this fear all my young life, though I had not always recognized it as such.
It was always right in front of me. The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length fur-collared leathers, which was their armor against their world. They would stand on the corner of Gwynn Oak and Liberty, or Cold Spring and Park Heights, or outside Mondawmin Mall, with their hands dipped in Russell sweats. I think back on those boys now and all I see is fear, and all I see is them girding themselves against the ghosts of the bad old days when the Mississippi mob gathered ’round their grandfathers so that the branches of the black body might be torched, then cut away. The fear lived on in their practiced bop, their slouching denim, their big T‑shirts, the calculated angle of their baseball caps, a catalog of behaviors and garments enlisted to inspire the belief that these boys were in firm possession of everything they desired.
I saw it in their customs of war. I was no older than five, sitting out on the front steps of my home on Woodbrook Avenue, watching two shirtless boys circle each other close and buck shoulders. From then on, I knew that there was a ritual to a street fight, bylaws and codes that, in their very need, attested to all the vulnerability of the black teenage bodies.
I heard the fear in the first music I ever knew, the music that pumped from boom boxes full of grand boast and bluster. The boys who stood out on Garrison and Liberty up on Park Heights loved this music because it told them, against all evidence and odds, that they were masters of their own lives, their own streets, and their own bodies. I saw it in the girls, in their loud laughter, in their gilded bamboo earrings that announced their names thrice over. And I saw it in their brutal language and hard gaze, how they would cut you with their eyes and destroy you with their words for the sin of playing too much. “Keep my name out your mouth,” they would say. I would watch them after school, how they squared off like boxers, vaselined up, earrings off, Reeboks on, and leaped at each other. --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
- Publication Date : July 14, 2015
- File Size : 5738 KB
- Print Length : 155 pages
- Publisher : One World; 1st Edition (July 14, 2015)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00SEFAIRI
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,928 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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Coates uses his youth, his journey into manhood, his personal tragedies and his struggle to find his voice as a writer as a vehicle to reflect on what it means to be a black male in America. The book is crafted as a letter to his son, making it a more intimate and personal journey. That intimacy and humanization extends beyond Coates to the victims and survivors of racism. Coates forces to you reflect on the individuality, potential and preciousness of every life impacted by the Middle Passage, Bloody Sunday or killer cops.
He is not optimistic, but he's not a cynic, either. I was worried that this book would leave me feeling sad, angry, hurt. Instead, I feel strangely proud. He sees where we fail as a nation, but points out how black people have and will continue to survive as a people. And he calls on those who have benefited from America's systemic racism to do better or face their own future downfall.
To sum it up, Toni Morrison describes this book best: "This is required reading."
Coates is a great writer; I truly enjoyed reading his work and have an appreciation for his perspective. As a black immigrant, I do have to say that it is very disheartening for me to observe how african americans are stuck in the past. I always wonder why the glass is always half empty, their lack of optimism, their hatred for all things white is soo prevalent with black americans. I am especially appalled when I observe this with educated blacks. To me, the american dream is open to all who want it, you just have to carve out your niche, make sacrifices, and develop your emotional intelligence; the latter is key.
To close, I will do something I am not supposed to do - I will compare Trevor Noah’s book to this one. Trevor is am immigrant, and as such you read his story - a very personal and heartbraking story - yet as a black person you walk away hopeful, optimistic and with a can-do attitude.
Top reviews from other countries
Ta-Nehisi Coates does an excellent job of explaining what it is to grow up in America without that privilege. In clear prose he tells the story of his life. He clearly lays out how living in America as a black man means living under the threat of having your body broken.
Part of what makes this book so compelling is that Coates is writing to his son. Imagining having to have a similar conversation with my son is heartbreaking. I've read again and again about these conversations, but Coates manages to make it real in a way that I haven't experienced before.
Coates talks time and again about using writing as a way of interrogating himself and the world around him, of asking questions and exploring possible answers. What shows through more than anything in this book is a relentless search for the answers.
As a result, this book is more open than many essays. Coates shies away from the easy Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model. Instead the book is a series of questions. These questions lead to books, conversations, events. These provide some answers, but also open the door to yet more questions.
There are no definitive conclusions here, which is fitting for a book that is written from a father to his son. The book is an invitation to keep searching for the answers, to keep working to find a way to a world in which no one has to live in fear of their body being stolen, broken and destroyed.
The book gives us Coates’ honest thoughts on many important issues – on race, racism, poverty, deprivation, privilege and its abuse, police brutality. He documents his own personal experiences. He tells us of the experience of his friends and family. We see detail and pain and suffering.
Above all, Coates is a student of life (he was taught to inspect reality and find his own truths by his mother). He is an observer and someone who wishes to plunge the depths. He has insights. He has worked hard to understand how he feels as a black man in a black skin.
He wishes that more progress had been made so that the advice he could give to his son would be more positive - that the issues he struggled with growing up would be less present today. That is not the case. There is little light on the horizon, not none at all, just very little. There has been very little progress since the days of slavery.
Coates explains the pervasive fear he has always experienced for his own body – that at any moment his life could be taken on the streets. When his son was born he felt the same terror for his own child.
He discovered the beauty of black heritage, so absent in the media and schools. This was a discovery he made at Howard University, where the diverse black fraternity was alive with debate and dynamism and talent.
He became a reporter and said, “…the softness that once made me a target now compelled people to trust me with their stories…”. I liked that line a lot.
He tells us “…for 250 years black people were born into chains…”
“…transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold” – the founding wealth of America
“…the truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear….”
I resonated with much of what Coates had to say. It’s a timely piece, sobering and brutally honest.
Coates himself says that he has struggled with expressing love and softness to his son (my words) because he has been too terrorized by his own inability to secure the safety of his son on the streets, such that, every moment of life, he is fearful of loss and tragedy. This was the powerful lesson I took away from this book. The flip side, in terms of the writing, is that I had expected more warmth and a more personal nature to the letters. As I was reading, I rather felt that the author was speaking directly to the reader. This was not negative, in fact it was powerful, but it was not the expectation raised by the book blurb.
In terms of presentation, I have to say that I think the publisher would have been better to split the three letters into smaller sections, to give the reader time to breathe. Do not let this put you off!
As I said, a timely piece, sobering and brutally honest
I have admired Coates writing since reading him in the Atlantic. He writes with beauty, poetically getting to the heart of matters with originality and insight. He does not unearth facts but makes his telling points with anecdotes and observations. This makes it more, rather than less, effective. He does not argue with the reader but confronts him with an unarguable emotional case that rings true.
And Coates is mad, and justifiably so. He rubs our noses in racism and holds our heads down until we can't stand it. I doubt that anyone who reads this book will ever feel the same about race, and for this we have the brilliant Coates to thank.
A worthy winner of the National Book Award
As you may know, this book speaks about race in America, starting from the days of slavery till now, to provide us with this viewpoint that makes the reader understand ‘what it is like to inhabit a black body.’
It's almost like a personal diary from Coates to his son explaining how it is we have come to the state we are in, and to offer consolation to his son through it.
This is such a beautifully written book. I love that the author was able to write with such clarity that enabled the reader to really be put in a black person's shoes. To understand their culture and to comprehend that the root cause of it all is fear that is driving these people forward as it is their only means of survival. Terrifying fear where your guard is up 24/8 because you know that as soon as you step out into that world you have a target, set and ready, on your back, which translates to a harshness and power within an individual that is at its essence, fear. And Coates lets the reader (and his son) view this fear through his eyes, his upbringing and experiences and understanding of the world.
I was just on the constant verge of tears, whether it was out of anger or sadness, because what else are you meant to feel when you know that a specific group of people are completely broken down due to the colour of their skin? Yet, he speaks on understanding the 'white’ mentality. This book is full of empathy, it seeps out of every word, every sentence that is constructed
He speaks on identity, the social construct of races, the all American Dream that is a facade and build on the back of slavery, police brutality and the concept of whiteness.
It's not all doom and gloom. There is hope, there has to be and he shares beautiful moments in his life where barriers within himself are broken and clarity poured in, that the world is much more than America and its toxic narrative/lifestyle and the simple wonders of life that we take for granted.
I know that this is a book that I'll casually flick through every now again. I've filled it with my thoughts, which I'll probably have to add to as my perspective of this world changes and my own understanding grows. It was truly an an eye-opening read. I feel invigorated and my mind is more curious, hungry and eager to find out more.