Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an essay/letter to the author’s son. In it, Coates speaks about growing up in Baltimore, about going to Howard University, about love and fear and police brutality, all in an effort to show his son what life is like as a black man in America.
This book is stunning—in writing, in content, in emotion. As someone who is, genetically, half-Asian, I have nevertheless grown up with a lot of white privilege. Therefore, this book isn’t intended for me. I have not grown up black in America, so this book was even more eye-opening. The fact that America has been founded on racism is not a novel idea to me, but it has never been more evident than today’s political and social climate. Racism, as Coates deftly points out, is not a problematic side effect of the American Dream—racism is a key part of the American Dream.
As Coates describes his childhood on the streets of Baltimore and in the schools that never seemed to help him or teach him as they should, he doesn’t sugar-coat anything. He simply speaks to his son, presenting his experiences and assessing them. When he speaks of the murders of black people at the hands of the police, it feels as if I am reading news stories from today, not five years ago (when this book was published).
We Americans need to read this book and others like it, even though it is difficult. Coates does not offer a solution to the ideas he presents here—nor should he have to; one single person cannot reverse the effects of racism, and one black person cannot tell all white people how to help or how to behave. But if nothing else, this book is eye-opening for people with white privilege and hopefully will promote discussion about the issues that have always, and continue to, plague this country.
Overall rating: 9/10