Between the World and MeBook - 2015
"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.
Praise for Between the World and Me
"Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Brilliant . . . [Coates] is firing on all cylinders, and it is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers at the very moment national events most conform to his vision." -- The Washington Post
"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
"A brilliant thinker at the top of his powers, Coates has distilled four hundred years of history and his own anguish and wisdom into a prayer for his beloved son and an invocation to the conscience of his country. An instant classic and a gift to us all." --Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
"I know that this book is addressed to the author's son, and by obvious analogy to all boys and young men of color as they pass, inexorably, into harm's way. I hope that I will be forgiven, then, for feeling that Coates was speaking to me, too, one father to another, teaching me that real courage is the courage to be vulnerable." --Michael Chabon
"A work of rare beauty . . . a love letter written in a moral emergency, one that Coates exposes with the precision of an autopsy and the force of an exorcism." -- Slate
From the critics
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For their innocence, they nullify your anger, your fear, until you are coming and going, and you find yourself inveighing against yourself -- 'Black people are the only people who ...' -- really inveighing against your own humanity and raging against the crime in your ghetto, because you are powerless before the great crime of history that brought the ghettos to be.
“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”
I grew up in a house drawn between love and fear. There was no room for softness. But this girl with the long dreads revealed something else -- that love could be soft and understanding; that, soft or hard, love was an act of heroism.
"Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains - whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains."
(This book opens with a quote from Richard Wright that contains the title of the book):
And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing, stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms. And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me.
"Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas…across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.” (150)
“…predictions of national doom. I had head such predictions all my life… [I knew] that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline."
That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free… and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
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