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Book review: Coates's message rings powerfully

By TIFFENY GRIPPER / VN SPECIAL WRITER
On March 28, 2017

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter to his son about living in America as an African-American.

The book is split into three parts, each beginning with an excerpt from a poem by an African-American writer.

 Although Coates and his son were raised in a post-civil rights world, both experienced the kind of moment that occurs in most black boys’ lives – no matter what period – when they realize how easily their lives can be taken.

One of Coates’s themes throughout is how black Americans don’t own their bodies. It is the overall message he tries to convey to his son.

He delivers this message by telling stories from his life when he realized this.

Coates is fully aware that his upbringing is different from his son’s.

Samori lives in a world where the possibilities are endless because of the internet.

But Coates wants to make sure his son never forgets what his ancestors have been through.

Samori is and will always be a black male in America and that is what creates the barrier between the world and his dad, Coates writes.

Before I read the book, I assumed that the title “Between the World and Me” was about Coates and his relationship with the world.

In a way, it is. But ultimately it is about him growing up feeling as if he was sometimes worlds and galaxies away from the country he lived in.

Coates feels this way because of the social construct of race.

I’ve never read anything that talks about race like “Between the World and Me.”

When referring to white people, Coates describes them as people who were raised believing they were white.

This one aspect of our lives has made all the difference, he says.

This book gives a great look at what a large portion of the African-American community goes through.

Many black kids growing up poor in inner cities aren’t worried about school like other kids.

Instead, they are worried about survival.

“I knew that West Baltimore, where I lived; that the north side of Philadelphia, where my cousins lived; that the South Side of Chicago, where friends of my father lived, comprised a world apart,” Coates writes. “Somewhere out there beyond the firmament, past the asteroid belt, there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies.” 

As a child, Coates would watch white boys on television and their main problems were not having a girlfriend.

It’s no secret that America clearly gets uncomfortable when the topic is race.

I don’t see why it’s a big deal, but reading this book provides a chance to learn about someone else’s experience in America.

Both of my parents are African-American, and they grew up in Detroit between the 1960s and 1980s.

Although their experiences differ from Coates’s, there are similarities.

That is why this book is so important. At the end of reading it, I was left with these questions: “How have these issues spanned decades, generations? How has so little changed?”

Coates wants his son to realize that a lot of things have changed and that these changes are probably going to make his son’s life better in certain aspects. At the same time, however, fundamental issues of race are still going to affect him.

But, he notes, this isn’t always a bad thing. There is beauty in the struggle and a privilege in being black that Coates wants his son to remember when life seems hard.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about another person’s experience.

I also think this is a great book that families should read as a group because it’s educational and starts a discussion that parents should have with their children. 

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