Published by Spiegel & Grau on July 14, 2015
Length: 3 hours, 35 minutes
Source: I listened to this audiobook via my TuneIn Premium subscription.
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“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
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.
Between the World and Me is a long letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son. I listened to the audiobook, which Coates himself narrates. His voice contains so much passion and intensity, and the points are so crucial, it’s hard to take in at times. His words are beautifully phrased, but they need to be contemplated again and again because they are troublesome and deep, demanding full attention.
Coates speaks of the discrepancies between the white world he saw on TV as a child, and his own reality growing up in West Baltimore. He offers perspective into his father’s beatings (“Either I can beat him, or the police.”). He emphasizes the never-ending struggle for a most basic need: Protect your body, protect your children’s bodies. That ties into the reasons he felt so disconnected in school, why everything there felt irrelevant to his everyday life. He discusses how, later, books empowered him and showed him what schools never did. How college challenged his worldview.
Coates points out the oppressive, heavy weight that comes with the American Dream. He confronts American exceptionalism and explains why it is problematic, especially for African-Americans. He is unapologetic and blunt, often referring to “people who believe they are white.”
It doesn’t matter if readers “agree” with Coates or not. This is a look at someone’s personal, intimate feelings about being black in America today and the depth of racism in our country. If you found Claudia Rankine’s Citizen powerful eye-opening, you cannot miss Between the World and Me.