Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, a National Book Award winner, is not an easy book to read. It’s not a book that fills one with hope and pride about what it means to be an American, especially if you consider yourself to be a “white” American. The book is written as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, Samori, and Coates is clear: “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” His teenage son has witnessed the brutal treatment of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, retreating to his room in tears upon learning that Brown’s killer would go unpunished. Coates honestly describes the fear that his son could join them.
Coates writes of his childhood growing up in Baltimore, later attending Howard University, and urges his son to “struggle”, to become a “conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world”, while lamenting that “we are entering our last years together, and I wish I had been softer with you. Your mother had to teach me how to love you”, and admitting “that is because I am wounded.”
This is a book for all of us who want to become more conscious of our role in the oppression of other human beings and our need to recognize our brokenness and need to struggle together towards something much better. Coates notes that “America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”
Previously published on STAND Magazine