“Between the World and Me”

Between the hardback cover of this National Book Award winner is a letter from a father to his son. Something deep and profound awaits the reader of this book as they discover, along with the author’s son, what it means to be black in America. This book is rooted in the world that surrounded it at the time of its writing two years ago, and every age of American history.

I found the book after hearing so many black intellectuals discuss it on TV and online. They found it to be “required reading” for all people, but especially for young black people like me. It is impossible to separate a book like this from my race, but it is for exactly that reason it was able to make such a lasting impression on me. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this for his son, but it could have just easily been written for me. I believe that anyone who picks up their own copy will find that it resonates deeply with them. It is a book that is designed to teach and guide readers through the fear that comes with inhabiting a black body.

Though out the book, Coates outlines the many parts of black life that teaches black people, and black men in particular, to be very cognizant of themselves. From his childhood in West Baltimore , where he spent time learning the rules of the streets, to his adult life, when he lost one of college classmates to police brutality. He shows the reader that this fear comes from a long history of black bodies struggling in America. He acknowledges that from the days of slavery, back people have had to pass on this fear, in the hope that it will allow them to survive.

As a father, Coates accepts the responsibility of passing that on to his son,who after the acquittal of Michael Brown’s killer, is troubled by the depth of injustice aimed toward black people.  Coates doesn’t try to assure his son that things will be better. In fact, in the very beginning, when asked about hope by a news anchor, he believes he has failed to educate them on the fear black people have of being brutalized. Coates warns his son that as much as he wants to change the world for the better, he must always carry with the history and the reality that comes with his melanin. However, as he concludes the book he urges his son to struggle. He urges him to struggle to have all the good things the world have to offer him, and to relish in the history and culture that also comes with a black body.

As the son of a black father, this book gave me a connection to my father that was more visceral and caring than I was ever able to understand. My father talked to me about all the things I needed to know, but I always felt that he saw the world as a place so much darker than it was. Coates notes “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”  This book helped me to understand that my father, much like most parents,  wanted to keep me from getting myself hurt.

Toward the end of the book, Coates visits the mother of his killed classmate at her home. In one of the most poignant scenes of the book, she explains how much life there was to her son, and how brutality and racism came for her and her son, in their suburban life, intelligence and success. It was then that it became clear that all this is a part of my life, and a part of Coates’ son’s life.

You may find that you don’t agree with some things in this book, you may find yourself with questions at the end. This is not a perfect book, but it’s not a perfect world. Ta-Nehisi Coates can only do the best he can to answer for the scars of America’s legacy.

“Between the World and Me” is, as Toni Morrison reviewed, “required reading. It is especially so for all black boys who are a part of this country. However, I urge anyone to read it, because it unmasks truths that all of us need to know and understand.

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About the Author

Andrew Walker Watson is a freshman International Studies Major. He loves Brazilian rap music, discovering useless facts, and, naturally, writing. If he could ever stop staring out into space, he would like to start a global movement to change the world and guest host Saturday Night Live.