Review: Coates’s Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

How does one review a book like Between You a Me? Especially when one is me – an educated, white, straight, middle class dude.

What can I possibly say?

I can say that it deeply affected me.

That even now, over a week after finishing the book, it is still at the front of my mind. I can say how visceral and immediate the writing is, even when it is repetitive, in fact, perhaps most when it is repetitive. I can say how I’ve struggled all week with Coates recollections of his father’s beatings. Struggled specifically with the phrase “I beat him or the police”. I can say that the recollections of the casual humiliation Coates suffered repeatedly, here in my own beloved city, brought me to tears.

I can say that you really have to read this book.

Coates is almost my exact contemporary. Our cultural references are all the same. The same hip hop groups, the same games, the same football players. But our lives could not have been more different. My father never felt he had to beat me to protect me from a world out to kill me and I will (almost surely) never have to worry about my son being murdered by the state because of the color of his skin.

The book, as you probably know is written as a letter to Coates’s son. In that letter are many things – stories of Coates’s youth, praise for his son’s mother, ruminations on education and life, but mainly it’s a warning that no matter your privilege, education, or opportunity, if you’re a black man in America the state can kill you with impunity. That’s can be a hard thing to read, especially when it is put as bluntly as Coates puts it in this book.

It is also inarguably true.

Some have criticized this book for lacking hope, or for failing to provide an answer to racist nightmare that is America. But providing hope, or answers, isn’t Coates job. I’m not even sure he believes there is an answer, or a hope. Demanding Coates provide us with a happy ending really misses the point of the book.

This book isn’t a prescription for change – it’s a warning about reality.


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