Posted by: Elizabeth A. (Betty) Thomas | January 18, 2017

What I Am Reading: Between the World and Me

cover-between-the-world-and-me

As James Baldwin wrote a letter in 1963 to his 15 year-old-nephew in The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his 15-year-old son, Samori Maceo-Paul Coates in Between the World and Me. Both books advise the young men about how to make sense of the world. Between the World and Me is the “talk” that parents give their children when they reach a certain age about how to navigate in the world while being in a “black body.”  While Coates’ writing is poetic and eloquent and earned him the National Book Award, his message is not hopeful. He says, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”

He talks a lot about the Dream and the Dreamers. He says that historians created the Dream and Hollywood and novels have perpetuated it. He tells his son about the permanence of racial injustice and the foolishness of thinking things might change. Growing up in West Baltimore, Coates could not reconcile the violence he experienced in his daily life with that dream life depicted on television. Despite the dangers of growing up on crime-ridden streets, Coates’ family life provided some basis for success. Coates’ mother worked as a teacher and made him write essays as punishment for bad behavior. His father founded Black Classic Press and published African-American literature. Later, his father became a reference librarian at Howard University, enabling Coates to go to college.

Coates repeatedly refers to Howard University as his personal “mecca.” He becomes radicalized by the shooting death of his college friend, Prince Carmen Jones by the Prince Georges County police. After leaving Howard University, Coates began to write and be published. David Carr, a New York Times journalist became a mentor. Coates currently writes for The Atlantic as a national correspondent. His articles: “Fear of a Black President” and “The Case for Reparations” have won him recognition.

After reading this autobiography, one better understands his background, his rage, and his frustration as he tries to explain to his son the reality of the world.

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