Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an open letter addressed to his son Samori. Coates writing was fueled by the recent killings of Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, John Crawford, and Mike Brown. For Coates, it is a troubling time in America, and he wants to impart wisdom to his son. This paper will examine Coates’s experiences as a black man in America, what the style of the book demonstrates, analyze elements seen throughout the book, a core theme explored, and lastly, a critique of the book.
Coates’s experiences as a black man are firmly rooted through the impacts of slavery and the legacy of America’s racism and allow him to create ammunition to fight for a better future. He acknowledges his parents by showcasing their influence that is instilled in him to understanding the world. Coates in the novel creates a fluid definition of family when he references aunts and uncles not necessarily related to him by blood but connected through the shared history and legacy of African Americans in the United States. He calls on the great activists and revolutionaries a part of this legacy and said he wishes that he can hold the same power as some of those shared ancestors in black culture. Coates explains that “perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X” (37). Having this shared history influenced by the shared legacy and history of black culture fuels Coates to move forward. Secondly, for Coates, the family is a significant influence on his worldview as a black man. The book stresses on communalism and family that allows for resistance against current oppression and brutality. The experiences of his family and peers demonstrated the number of blacks that continue to be removed from their families and community. He expresses poignantly that he knew everyone around him was dead and that those instances were unnatural (Coates 15). This pushes him to protect his family, especially his son, through all means. Thus, Coates’s experiences influence his current actions and are rooted in the legacy of racism and discrimination found in the United States.
The style of the book written in an open letter allows for Coates’s testimony to be open, raw, and honest. The narrative is written in the second person and directly addresses his son Samori and family members in intimate words. This allows the book to be written honestly and openly and creates a strong theme of family and inheritance. The narrative feels like a conversation between son and father, and the readership is peeping behind the curtain, looking at the honest communication happening there. Framing the story as a letter also heralds African American traditions of storytelling as a centerpiece in black families. The audience can see this when reading the book since Coates pours his heart out to his son to impart valuable wisdom.
Various circumstances pinpoint how race, gender, and class impact everyday experiences for African Americans. Readers learn about Coates’s wife, Kenyatta, who is the mother of Samori. Coates points out that Kenyatta grew up without a father, and this had huge ramifications of the life she lived as a black woman. Her father was taken from her and caused her worldview to be shifted immensely. This was a barrier Kenyatta had to jump over, according to Coates. Readers also learn about the beginning of the relationship between both Kenyatta and Coates. They both accidentally become pregnant at the young age of 24. They were both broke and living in a place with “almost no furniture” in Delaware (Coates 67). Surely navigating being black and having low socio-economic conditions is a double hardship that is mentioned in the film. Lastly, the race is heavily explored in the book. Readers are introduced to Prince Jones, who is killed by a police officer and leaves behind a fiancé and baby daughter (Coates 78). This called to broader themes of police brutality that significantly affect African Americans.
The dominant message on black bodies in the United States is a critical discussion needed in current American discourse. Coates spend an extensive amount of time on how black bodies are controlled, manipulated, and policed. He sets up a historical narrative to prove this argument by tracing the selling of black bodies during slavery. He tells his son to always remember “how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold” (Coates 71). Because of this legacy in the United States, black bodies are disposable, and blacks are afraid of losing their bodies, which equals their lives. However, Coates’s message becomes beautiful when he touches on how blacks take control of their bodies through style, dance, and art.
A huge downside that can be found in the book is the negative, inescapable message that Coates relays. Racism is preeminent on the mind of Coates, and it preoccupies him throughout everything he does. It creates a sort of paranoia in the book too. This is dangerous because it further pushes blacks into abandon without any source for change. Nonetheless, the book is beautifully written and highlights significant problems in American discourse.
Between the World and Me by Coates is a raw and honest read of American racism and its impact on black people. He explains his experiences as a black man and how this has fueled his desire for family and a better life for his community. The format of a letter allows readers to see his real emotions and the impact it has on its thinking. The impact of race, gender, and class are seen throughout the novel, especially on the characters which Coates introduces. The message on black bodies is dominant and vital when looking at the current state of affairs in the United States relative to black culture. There is the belief, though, that Coates was very negative when providing his arguments. Nonetheless, the novel is a good read on the history and current lives of blacks in the United States.