This week on The Stacks Podcast, we discussed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The Stacks Book Club. I was joined by Jay Connor, a writer, and the creator and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. You can listen to our conversation about the themes in this book right here.
If you’re not familiar with this book, which came out in 2015, here is a small description.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
To say that this is a good book, is almost trivializing all this book says and does. This is one of those books that changed the way I saw the world fundamentally. It changed how I interacted with the world as a Black woman, and also changed the way I saw other Black bodies. I all of a sudden felt as though I was part of something bigger, and also less a part of a something else.
The Dream is what Coates refers to when he talks about this notion of White exceptionalism or supremacy at the cost of the marginalized (and in this book more specifically Black folks). The Dream is the force that fights against Blackness. It is exclusionary, violent, and forgives all sins that are perpetrated in its name. To Coates, The Dream is how we can exist in a world with racists, but no white folks know any racists. The Dream is how we can excuse the horrors of slavery to the point that we have stripped the slaves of their humanity, even in the history books hundreds of years later. The Dream is what protects and defends Whiteness, and Coates calls this all to task. This book is not to make you comfortable, it is to make you think and understand how America functions.
Coates asks the reader to think and analyze ideas we often take for granted. To deeply question convention. One of his most controversial points is leveled around 9/11. Coates discusses why he is conflicted about the hero worship that came during and after September 11, 2001. He notes that this same neighborhood, Lower Manhattan, was home to the site of slave auctions and much plunder perpetrated against the Black Body. Its thoughts like this, really unpopular to many, that elevate this book. Coates is not sentimental, he is not afraid to speak his truth. And this is not the only moment that he confronts the reader on their beliefs.
Coates expertly weaves his own thoughts and feelings with the greater context of violence, racism, and hatred. However that is not all this book is, it is also a celebration of Blackness. Coates just as carefully reflects on the power of his time at Howard University, and how that time showed him the vastness of the Black cultural landscape. The diversity in the Black community, and the influence that had over him. This book is a master class in writing a thoughtful cultural critique. It blends the scholarly with the personal in both nostalgic and objective prose.
Most people could benefit from reading this book. Especially those people who live in The United States. What he is discussing and presenting the reader is a valuable perspective on race, violence, and Black bodies throughout the history of America. Read this book, please.
Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Jay Connor discussing Between the World and Me.
- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
- 5/5 stars
- Buy Between the World and Me on Amazon
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