Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is written as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, Samori. The book explains the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in America. Coates summarizes American history and explains to his son that the “racist violence has been woven into American culture.” Coates recalls from his youth in Baltimore on how things like the school, police, and even the streets discipline, endanger, and threaten to disembody black lives. Coates sees white supremacy as a indestructible force that blacks cannot avoid but will forever struggle against.
Your race is probably the most important factor when it comes to understanding yourself. Your race and ethnicity impacts your physical appearance and cultural traditions which play a key and social role in our lives. These things are part of our identity and how we see ourselves and how others see us. Race, ethnicity, factors of our identity can affect things in our lives like your test scores on standardized tests, your ability to get a loan or a mortgage, your chances of getting a job or gaining admission into college, your risk for being a victim of violence, your risk for heart attack or stroke, diabetes, cancer, and suicide, your risk for developing a mental illness or substance abuse disorder, the likelihood that you will be stopped and searched by the police, your risk of going to jail and the length of your prison sentences, and life expectancy. Understanding who you are as an individual is very important in life, especially here in America, due to all of the things that have been happening and that continue to happen with race being a factor.
The tone of Between the World and Me is very personal and negative and that is due to problems that are addressed in like race, injustice, religion, the false “American Dream”, and white supremacy. Coates tries to teach the audience about life as a black man in America and that is a rough topic to shine light on so he tries to keep it real. The message of the book towards his son and that is that because he is black he is going to struggle and it isn’t going to be easy for him, but he but he will need to endure it. This message can be applied to black people all over America. I think that Coates is 100% percent correct about some of his ideas and I can relate to some of the struggle due to some of my experiences.
Coates got the phrase “between the world and me” from own father and his inspiration, James Baldwin. He questions why he can’t get to the American Dream and what makes it so difficult for him to achieve. ‘And I saw what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do’ (120). He sees that it’s not his race, but the fact that white people decide that blackness exists and that is what prevents him from achieving the dream. The term white and black were created by the dominant group to maintain power.
Growing up, Coates wasn’t fond of the Civil Rights Movement heroes who practiced nonviolence. He wondered why they didn’t fight back and didn’t like how they allowed themselves to be physically violated the way they did. Malcolm X was an inspiration to him because of how he didn’t turn the other cheek and used violence when he needed to. The way Malcolm X was self taught and had control of his mind and body inspired Coates. Coates is also an atheist. He doesn’t believe in religion because it promotes a false hope. He doesn’t see the point in praying to a God while nothing is being done about the issue.
I think the main purpose Coates wrote this book was so that he could inform his son and his audience about how to live in a black body in America. He explains how race has been so important in the history of America. It has also been important in the self-identification of its people. Race has literally been the difference between life and death in a lot of cases in the country and that had been very evident in the past couple of years. He also sees the American dream as a false thing and that African Americans “blackness” is what stops them from achieving it.
Coates does not think that things will change now or in the future. He thinks the people who want to achieve the American dream are too blind, too ignorant, and too comfortable. They are like this because it is in their heritage and they won’t wake up into reality anytime soon. He says someone could make a change, but the change would not be big enough for there to be true equality. He says that all anyone can do is keep up the struggle to remain sane and alive and not rely on false hope or dreams of noble heroes.
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