REVIEW: "Between The World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In the wake of groups like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and horrific deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, ‘Between The World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, takes the conversation about race to another level. Coates, now a New York Times bestseller, uses his book to become a writing activist. He gives strong opinions about blacks, whites and everything in the middle.

The introduction of ‘Between The World And Me,’ starts out very strong, almost too strong. Coates gives the reader analogies about blacks losing control of their bodies in society due to racism. It seems his ‘Keep it real’ intent, may have been a failure with his initial analogy. Reading statements from Coates about how blacks don’t “own” their bodies and that racist cops have been given ownership over them, seems disempowering and gives the impression that blacks are doomed to get sucked into the ills of society caused by racism.

The book is formatted as a letter to his son. It’s often confusing in its format and seems to ramble. In spite of this Coates goal is made clear. He breaks down the origin of racism and the impact it has on his life and the lives of blacks in America through stories of those he’s encountered personally and headlines ripped from the news.

Telling The Truth

Racist cops getting away with murdering blacks, especially black men, was a sad truth Coates outlined in his book. The fact that those who abuse authority will never lose their pension and some will keep their jobs, is another sad reality that you can’t help but agree with. I read this book as a writer, career journalist wanting to understand the popularity of Coates and his writing.

Fear Within the Pages

Coates talks a lot about the fear police killings of black men bring to his culture and himself. His concern for his own son is present within his writing. The fear he speaks about is real and relatable. Coates speaks of his own childhood experiences with racism and black culture in Baltimore. This shaped his view of the world. It gave him a fear that he has continued to carry throughout his life. The childhood trauma of seeing street hustlers, conflict and guns gave Coates the drive he needed to escape the ills plaguing many black neighborhoods in America.

While many may applaud Coates writing and bold descriptions, it takes a careful eye to see the scarring of a black man’s soul in these experiences. His pain is deeply embedded within the pages of ‘Between The World And Me’. Coates writing seems like an attempt to draw attention to a controversial topic. It also gives him a place to have therapy, release and heal from his own experiences as a witness of racism and problems within black American culture.

The Lack of Hope, Accidental Joy

While reading this book I found myself wanting to argue with Coates about his views and the lack of optimism about the black movement. He tells the truth about racism and the ills of society, but what about hope? What about a future and what about the things our ancestors fought for? I couldn’t help but think about the good things that got missed within Coates truth. Yes, it’s true that racism is a serious deep rooted problem, but there are many unsung heroes and pioneers that have helped create change.

Lester Holt, the first black solo anchor of NBC nightly news is one of example of a pioneer breaking barriers for blacks in 2015. Coates had a platform to boost more positive blacks as a ray of hope. The book stays dim in this aspect.

Coates grandmother becomes the heroine of his life within his childhood stories. She taught him to read and write. She made Coates write whenever he got into trouble. Like many famous blacks including Spike Lee and Dr. Ben Carson, there was a black woman who had hope, drive and determination behind the scenes making sure the ills of society did not destroy the life of another black man. While Coates drives home the ills of racism in America, he tells stories of his days at Howard University, a top ranking historically black college. An opportunity that some black men don’t, can’t or believe they can get. By the end of the book, joy finally emerges and the humble yet beaming pride of Coates comes from behind the shadows of the darkness outlined within the pages.

Personal Touch

The addition of photos and poetry was a nice add to the book. Among photos is Coates with his son. The pictures add meaning to his words that at times seem harsh and a little over the top. The shock value of some of his statements keep the reader’s attention. I applaud Coates for his candid views in ‘Between The World And Me’, even though I don’t agree with all of them. It’s definitely a great book to start the conversation on the impact of racism. It could also fuel some heated debates on if the racism can consume blacks and whites so much that they miss progress, beauty and the light within the world that brings happiness and joy. I agree with Coates that racism is one of the worst crisis facing blacks in America today. I disagree with his strong statements that include losing control of your body. I feel that blacks in America can and should take authority over themselves, the movement and continue to break barriers and tear down the walls that divide races in America.