Today we are going to talk about July’s book of the month, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. But first, let’s check out this book and see what it is all about.
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for 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.
Questions to think about and/or answer:
1. Why did Coates use manhood as an overlying theme? Would it have been less, equally, or more effective for him to incorporate the black female struggle as well into this text?
2. Can this book also be seen as a plea for education reform? When Coates says that “the schools were not concerned with curiosity,” but rather with “compliance,” what does that tell us about how the educational institution in America perpetuates racial injustice?
3. Rather than categorizing people as either good or bad in two distinct categories, it is clear that Coates speaks of humans as having pure and dark intentions and actions simultaneously. It is not the bad white people vs the good black people. That being said, how does Coates speak of humanity and its complexities? Give examples.
4. Coates refers to the word “people” as a political term and frequently references white people as those who “believe themselves white.” What can this kind of dissociation from race do as the United States progresses? Moving forward, how can reminding people that race is purely a social construct aid in this fight? (Questions from Alexis Elafros, University of Central Florida)
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.”—Toni Morrison
“Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Really powerful and emotional.”—John Legend, The Wall Street Journal
Mocha Girls Speak
What an amazing piece of work! I see why Toni Morrison said it should be required reading. This is one black man’s experience of living in this country and if you read it with an open mind then you will begin to understand the plight and fear that many of our black brothers must deal with on a daily basis. Between the World and Me should be required reading and it should also serve as a conversation starter if we ever want to get to the point of having a real and honest dialogue on the topic of race and what it means to be black in the United States.
Why I read this book: One of my friends was reading this book and said it made him think of me and that he thought it would be something I would like. So he ordered it for me as a gift of kindness and had it shipped to my house. I’m glad he did.
I agree with Toni Morrison’s assertion that this book is required reading, but I’d like to take a moment to clarify exactly why. I’ve read many good reviews of this text, but none of them have capitalized on or defined why one would recommend this as required reading.
First, this text is widely personal, real and evidence-based and provides a level of insight and awareness related to the core of race issues in America in a way that very few texts have.
Secondly, the documentation of his first-hand experiences, coupled with Coates’ ability to engage the reader with his unique and eloquent writing style, create a unique and powerful experience for the reader.
Finally, the reader is blatantly faced with realities, ones that they may not have been aware of to begin with, and have no other choice but to face them. To swallow them. To wake up and smell the coffee.
So with those things considered and clarified, this is, indeed, required reading. For everyone.
I was amazed at how many good, deep and profound quotes this book contains. Ones that will likely live on forever. Coates is an amazing writer, and amazing storyteller and a brilliant intellect. With all of that said though, I disagree with the comparisons to Baldwin. The primary commonalities between Baldwin and Coates are that both of their works demonstrate their strong and passionate abilities to examine the states of Black America, the impacts of racism and their abilities to summarize the Black experience. But their styles and their approaches are vastly different. It’s okay to have more than one talented black intellect without categorizing them or forcing the act of one piggy backing on the other. They’re different. And amazingly individual.
Really deep brotha. Made me wish I went to Howard. Didn’t know Howard was that Mecca as he calls it.
Mocha Girl Lady
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