Between the World and Me by TA-Nehisi Coates


Avery Wade

“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” (Between the World and Me, 8). It is not often that people step aside and reflect on how the American system passive aggressively, coerces the negative idea of making the atrocious events that occurred not too long ago, relevant in current conversation. Entering college, I was able to attend a couple Black Student Union meetings (BSU) and African Student Association meetings (ASA) during which we were able to address current conflicts with black lives that does relate to history. The night of the African/African American community dinner, one of the hosts provided me with a book called “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As I began to read this book, I gained a deeper understanding, through education, of how relevant these events truly are.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an award winning author who greatly reflects on how subjugation and racism occupied an important part of American history. His book was published on July 14, 2015 in which he received the National Book Award for nonfiction (Alexandra Walter). He writes using the literary convention of a letter to his son to clearly express personal experiences and the social acceptance of these historical features (Jon Stewart, Daily Show).  At the start of the book Coates, alludes to slavery with the lines, “The progress of all those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence” (Coates, 6) which truthfully explains the success that America has attained.  Due to the fact that a limited amount of this knowledge provided, many people are absent minded to this fact because they do not seek to obtain this knowledge by themselves but rather clutches to the message that America has provided; that this country is on of innocence. However, there are some who are attempting to acknowledge how, not too long ago, the foundation which led to progression began with the exploitation of African American labor, subsistence, sharecropping, and domestics that immeasurably contributed to the success of America.

During the early stages, religion was used to determine slavery. Since race was not a factor at that time, African Americans were able to obtain various titles and acquire half freedom, the process of paying an annual tax to remain free (Pittman, 2015). This was all due to change with the demand for forced labor and the ideology of Christians unable to enslave other Christians. The encouragement of racial slavery held whites higher than any other race and defined that being black, meant to being in bondage. Even though my artifact was published not too long ago, it still holds great significance to the slavery era.  Coates defines the diaspora as being both “White” and “Black” because neither of these races truly exist. Whites did not originate from America nor did Blacks. This was just another way for White people to exert control over their fellow humans because they felt and in some ways still feel a superiority complex; resulting in the dehumanization of black people based on the fact that the skin colors were different. This fortified the exclusion of ancestral documentation or any documentation of Black people because this race didn’t exist prior to the enslavement of Africans.

As I was reading this artifact, it was interesting to see how relatable it is to current day events. Throughout the book Coates addresses himself as “my body” and other people of color as “his body” in which I interpreted as a reflection on racial slavery, when African Americans were considered property. He continues this theme for the entire book and makes a smooth transition to unveil the adjustment to socially constructed racism to support his claim of how in reality, African Americans are still being treated the same. A relevant topic that demonstrates this reality is the phrase “Black lives matter”. It is sad to see that this group of people who lost most of their lives in efforts to gain equality among the white man, continue to fight for this so called freedom” that they were given and continue to be targeted and therefore must protest to gain social justice. Within the artifact, Coates speaks of Treyvon Martin and Prince Jones who were wrongfully victimized by police brutality that resulted in a fatality. He also includes how they abuse their authority to justify their actions of singling out African Americans for looking “suspicious”. This relates to the Jim Crow era as a hybrid version of De jure and De facto are utilized. I say hybrid because the actions of the police are “justifiable” by law but is a social practice of segregating Blacks by physical appearance. A prime example from the book is when he describes that Prince James was being investigates by an undercover cop who believed he fit the criminal description of a 5’4 man with a dark complexion when Prince was actually 6’4 and could only relate skin color with the actual suspect.

To portray a personal view on the reading, I have attained the understanding that history may not blatantly repeat itself but in different forms it resurfaces. Coates does a tremendous job of referring to the American horrors that not only opens conversation but also informs the reader of the inequity the continues to be pushed aside and acknowledged as playing the “race” card. In the beginning of the book Coates tries to explain to a woman how the neglect to accept the past and the continuation of such ignorant behavior, prevents one from regaining possession over themselves. She was unable to comprehend and responded by flashing an image of a young black boy tearfully hugging a police officer and asked about hope. When I first read this response, I was quite confused as to how it related to what Coates had said to her but I then realized that the point of the discussion wasn’t to understand Coates but convince him that his perception of America is fallible. Too often do people belittle the mistreatment the world which is why I find it very important for people to speak up and reiterate the realism of internal conflicts.

I honestly believe that this book perfectly portrays the relevance of the brutal history our ancestors had to endure, to the current events that have been occurring because Coates cleverly weaves Americas Achilles’ heel. It is important that we do not forget the past or else our ignorance would send us in an inevitable regression. This book is as said on the front cover by Tony Morrison, a required reading but I strongly recommend it to others. It presents comprehendible information that anyone could relate to and highlights the comparativeness of the past. It also opens important conversations about racism which is important because this sensitive topic must be brought up to find a solution.



Sources Cited

Alter, Alexandra. “Ta-Nehisi Coates Wins National Book Award.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015. Print.

Pittman, LaShawnDa (2015). Strange New Land  [Prezi Presentation].

Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times Kakutani, Michiko. “Review: In ‘Between the World and Me,’ Ta-Nehisi Coates Delivers a Searing Dispatch to His Son.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 July 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Stewart, Jon. “Extended Interview Pt.2.” Comedy Central. N.p., 23 July 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

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