Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Review of 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis.  Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'race,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-- bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.  What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?  And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.  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."

This was a read that was talked about a lot but that also took me a while to get around to reading.  And really, it's such an important read that I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner.  

This entire book is a letter from the author to his son.  This in and of itself is interesting because that means that no one is really the target audience except for his son.  I don't know if it's meant for people like me (white, to get straight to the point) who need to understand just how fragile life is and how it's even more fragile for people of color whose lives tend to be threatened more often than my own or if it's meant for POC who know and understand.  Maybe it's a place where you understand and turn to see that someone else understands too.  Or maybe it's meant for both types of audiences.  Either way, I think it's effective.

I have been trying to read more and more about race especially from people who are forced to think about their race in a variety of contexts that I have the privilege of not thinking about.  I appreciate that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't hold back.  I'm ready to listen and he was and still is ready to speak and so I feel like I have a better understanding about the threats that face people of color.  I'm trying to be a better ally and that understanding is crucial to doing ally work that matters.  My research is far from over though.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I can't think of a better way to get the "lay of the land," so to speak and build that understanding, even if I can't fully comprehend everything that is being said.  And that says more about me and what I've experienced.

This is what I'm left with after one read.  I think this book will require a second or even a third reading after I've done more extensive reading and built up my knowledge on this subject more.  It'll be interesting to see if I understand more after another read-through.

I can only speak to my experience, but I think this book is important for white people to read if they intend to be allies to POC.  This ought to be required reading.  I fully intend to return to this book again.

I give 'Between the World and Me':
Thanks for Reading!


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