Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Book

Every American should read Between the World and Me. The book is a letter that Ta-Nehisi
Coates has written to his teenaged son, but it is more, way more than that. If
you want to surrender your white privilege for a bit and experience what it is
like to be a black person in America, immerse yourself in the arc of Coates’
life as he shares with his son and with us. You may be white in America and
think that your life does not seem to have any “white privilege” in it. If so, then
you need to read this book even more than most of us. We still have a ways to
go if we really want to eliminate racial discrimination in our society, which
was supposedly built on the precept that “all men are created equal”.
I remember being lifted to a new level of consciousness when
I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison because it hit me so personally. I
learned to read using the Dick and Jane readers
with the perfect little children with their cute pets and their red wagons.
These children were white and lived in a simple and healthy “white” world. When
Toni Morrison contrasts her life events with those of those two happy-go-lucky
little white children we are aghast that she had to suffer so when she was just
a child. And I am not saying that there are not white children who grow up
under equally horrifying circumstances, but the idea of an American child using
this book to learn while experiencing, in her own life, the things she did is
shocking and heart-rending. When Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about “the Dream”, and
I assume he means the American Dream, he is, in part, talking about the sweet
life depicted in those Dick and Jane
readers.
Toni Morrison wrote her book in 1970. You would think that
big contrasts between the lives of Americans of African Descent and the lives
of white Americans would no longer exist but that is not what has happened.
Coates suggests that much of the behavior that makes white folks fear black
neighborhoods is just a series of defensive stances by black people who have
even more reasons to fear and blame almost everyone. It is important that we
understand this.
Coates talks about how difficult it is to understand the
passive resistance of his forebears in the 60’s when they fought for their
civil rights. He feels drawn to the more militant beliefs and strategies of
Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. But he does not incite his son to violent
activism. Coates goes on to show his son how, as he kept growing and studying,
he changed. He expanded his world to include Howard University which had an indelible
effect on him. He married. He and his wife settled in New York City and the
city, so much more cosmopolitan than most American cities showed him that
greater freedom is possible. This also affects his thinking. He studies history
and gains perspective on the fact that white Americans are not alone in their
imperfections. 
Traveling to Paris mellows him and gives him additional
insights. But his deeper understandings, although they may “fix” him, have not
fixed America and that is the job that lays before us. This talented American
writer should not have to fear what America holds in store for his beloved son.
There is an awful lot packed in these 150 pages and the book flies by, but the
implications stay. If we are serious about finding a way to honor the words
(not the deeds) of our forefathers, if we want a strong, healthy nation that
works for all of our citizens, then read this book and use it as a way to help
us change. We need to change.
By Nancy Brisson

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