I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
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.
The front cover of this book has a pull quote from acclaimed writer Toni Morrison. “This is required reading,” she states, and there is no statement I could possibly conceive of that encapsulates this book better than that. It is required, important, and deeply powerful.
I am no expert on race or social theory, and I have not lived through many, if any of the experiences that Coates details, but that is precisely why this book is so necessary. It is the detailing of an experience, a moral failing on grand scale, a national tragedy. It is one man’s perspective of life in America, a snapshot that outlines all of the inherent biases, fears, and struggles that the black community has had to endure due to the 250 year tragedy of slavery.
Coates frames this work as a letter to his teenage son, and in doing so relates his personal history to the reader while drawing parallels to the injustices and difficulties that have spanned the centuries. It is personal, moving, and troubling all at once.
Between the World and Me won the National Book Award for non-fiction in 2015, and though I confess I have not yet read any of the other nominees within that category, I fail to see how anything could be as relevant to our current social and political climate. It is a beautifully constructed work on the true ugliness of racism, and just how tragically entrenched it is within a society that lauds itself on being exceptional. To truly be as exceptional as we claim to be we need to understand the damages that have been caused through the centuries and the assumptions that are placed upon children before they even take their first breath. We need to understand the experiences of others, the challenges, the hardships. We need to change.
It’s not often that I make blanket statements regarding book recommendations. People prefer different genres, or eras, or settings, I get that. But this book is an exception to that- if you have not already, please read Between the World and Me. It is the most powerful text I’ve read in a long time.