Between the World and Me is ostensibly a letter from a father to his adolescent son. But really it is so much more than that. It is filled with stories and history and it is about the struggle of blacks and what our American history has wrought. It is about a black father telling his black child what he knows about race, and injustice and it is filled with rage, anguish, pain and love.
It is also one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. I have described other authors and books as “lyrical” but I feel that I did not truly understand what that word meant until I read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Listen to this passage where Coates describes how the world shifted for him when his son was born.
The truth is that I owe you everything I have. Before you I had my questions but nothing beyond my own skin in the game, and that was really nothing at all because I was a young man, and not yet clear of my own human vulnerabilities. But I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I now go down, I would not go down alone….”Anyone can make a baby,but it takes a man to be a father” that is what they had told me all my life. It was the language of survival, a myth that helped us cope with the human sacrifice that finds us no matter our manhood. As though our hands were ever our own. As though plunder of dark energy was not at the heart of our galaxy.
Coates reminisces about how he awakened to who he really was and how he could fit into a world where his skin color defined him more than his character, his background or his intellect. He uses stories of revelatory experiences that incrementally changed his thinking, and created new and different ways for him to understand race. From growing up in Baltimore, to Howard University, to Paris and back, he imagines a different way of being American and a different America, where its myth of exceptionalism includes everyone.
America believes itself exceptional, the greatest noblest nation to ever exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorist, depots, barbarians and other enemies of civilization…. I propose to take our countryman’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American Innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all our names.
Profound, brutally honest, and challenging, this book makes us, especially those of us who are white see through a different prism and see the pain and injustices we have long ignored.
Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Keith, Ken, Sharon, Marian and Lauren
Book Study Worthy? YES!
Read in hardback format