Let me cut to the chase-this book is a must read. Usually when you hear about a book hyped as much as Ta-Nehishi Coates’ Between the World and Me, you’re going to be disappointed. This is the rare exception. Before I even finished the 152 page book, I knew it was the type of work that will outlive all of us, a permanent fixture on bookstore shelves and college syllabi.
This book-written in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests and published ahead of schedule after the white supremacist attacks in Charleston-is a nuanced, angry, and often frightened mediation of what it means to be black in America today. Written as a letter to his son, prompted by the 15-year-old’s shocked reaction when no charges were filed against the white officer who killed Michael Brown, it speaks to the perils of living in a country where unarmed black men and children-Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Freddy Gray to name a shameful few-are dying at the hands of the police. It’s a reminder that for all the insipid chattering of a “post-racial” America (or even better, the “reverse-racist” America).
He writes about his childhood, about navigating the violent groups in his neighborhood, and his parent’s fear that he would one day become their victim or join their ranks. He writes about the only lessons about the civil rights movement he learned in school-to turn the other cheek, to never resort to violence, to welcome the brutality of the oppressor. Watching newsreel footage of the civil rights movement in his classes, he got the impression that the protesters “seemed to love the worst things in life-love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the firehouse that tore off their closed and tumbled them into their streets.”
He writes about his time in college, how he discovered new heroes, came to think he had the answers to the world’s racial woes, and how he came to understand the world was too complicated for his naïve solutions. He writes about the death of his friend at the hands of the police, and the fury he still feels towards them. He writes about the time a white woman shoved his toddler son, and how white men came to her aid when he yelled at her. It’s not just heart wrenching anecdotes; Coates also writes about his time in Paris, the friends who helped shape who he became, and the love he feels for his son and wife.
I want to write more about this book, but I know that if I do, I’ll never be able to stop. There’s just too many things to go over, too many notes I frantically scribbled while devouring this book. Between the World and Me is a seminal work. You don’t have to agree with Ta-Nehishi Coates. But you do have to listen to him.