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Between the World and Me

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Length: 3 hrs and 35 mins

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.

4 pages, Audiobook

First published July 14, 2015

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About the author

Ta-Nehisi Coates

370 books13.8k followers
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations." He lives in New York with his wife and son.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 28,918 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
July 10, 2020
Sometime early in my reading of this book, I felt in my gut I had encountered a classic. Not a best-seller—this book is already that—but a classic. I envisioned stack upon paperback stack piled on metal shelves in university bookstores, shelves labeled Black Studies 301 but also Basic Comp 100. I could see pirated copies of large portions of Part One passed out to high school juniors and seniors, to be carefully annotated in AP Language and AP Literature, and I could see smaller sections distributed (with the customary "scaffolding" materials) to freshmen and sophomores in Basic English I and II.

But even now--after the winning of The National Book Award--I doubt my own vision. Coates book deserves to be a classic, just as much as The Life of Frederick Douglass, The Souls of Black Folk, The Fire Next Time, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X—all first-class books—deserve it. But a classic, after all, is not only a book of “first-class” quality, but one that is taught in “class”--and Coates book may be too bleak to appeal to educators--not to mention schoolboards and parents--who prefer books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Secret Life of Bees that agree to temper (to dissipate?) their truth with the comforts of warmth.

Coates book--presented as an open letter to his teenage son--is undoubtedly bleak. He grew up on the streets of Baltimore in the early '90's, and describes the experience in physical, visceral terms. As a black boy growing up in such streets, you knew that your body was continually under mortal threat, often under attack. At any moment your body could be controlled, violated, by the hands or weapons of another—often by the policemen employed by “the Dreamers,” those who define themselves as white in America and wish to preserve for themselves the privileges of the American Dream. And you knew that any of these random violations of the body could lead to the ending of your life. And if you were a young unbeliever—as Coates was and is—you were conscious that this act would end the only life you would ever know.

Coates has no faith in America or in its dream. For him, unlike Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe bends not toward justice but chaos. The Dream itself is built upon the despoliation and violation of the bodies of black men and women, and may only end when it has finally violated and despoiled the entire planet:
Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could order 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 a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

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 the revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.
But this book is more than its bleakness; although it is never hopeful, it is earnest, honest, and aware. Coates describes his odyssey from the narrow streets of Baltimore, to the black “Mecca” of Howard University, to the diverse neighborhoods of NYC, and to his encounter with a profoundly different culture on the boulevards of Paris. He welcomes his increasingly wide world with open eyes (if not always open arms), and his encounters with it deepen—although they do not substantially alter—his perceptions of blackness or the toxic nature of the Dream.

Finally, even his atheism seems to be something like a gift. Perhaps it is only by realizing that the body is ultimately all we have that we can finally get our priorities straight, stop believing in forms of “magic” like “salvation” or “the Dream” or "progress," and instead concentrate on making sure that the bodies of all young people are protected and respected, so that each may discover the world with her own unique eyes.

Between the World and Me is undoubtedly a great book. Even if its bleakness prevents it from becoming an official classic, there is still a part of my vision that I am sure will come true. I see fathers giving copies to their sons, mothers to their daughters, for generations to come.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 258 books409k followers
August 24, 2015
I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up this book, but that's true of many books I read. I simply felt like it was something I needed to read at that moment, and I'm very glad I did.

Between the World and Me is written as a letter/essay from Coates to his fifteen-year-old son, trying to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015. I almost said "make sense of what it means," but Coates' story is not so much about making sense as it is about finding one's place in a nonsensical context. He does not believe there is an answer to race relations. He believes (as I interpret it) that racial conflict is in itself an artificial construct and part of the Dream that keeps one group in power over another.

This is not a book written to explain the African American experience to white people (or as Coates likes to say, people who believe they are white.) As a middle-aged white guy, I am in no way the intended audience for this book. Perhaps that's what made it such an enlightening read for me. There was no sugar-coating, no careful racial diplomacy, no worry about mediating opinions to cater to what white people might be able to hear. It was just a heartfelt, raw, painful and honest letter from a father to a son, laying plain Coates' worry, anger, frustration, and fear for his son's future in light of Coates' own past and the world his son will grow up in. (There again: I almost said 'the world he will inherit,' but Coates would be quick to point out that this is white thinking. We grow up believing we can inherit the future of our country, whereas African Americans grow up hearing a very different message.)

Coates' most powerful assertion: doing violence to the African American body is an American legacy and tradition. It is not a failure of the system. It is part of the system. As much as may have changed in the past decades, the past centuries, the basic fear of African American parents remains: that their children can be snatched away, brutalized, killed for the smallest of reasons or no reason at all, and too often this violence is never addressed as anything more than an unavoidable force of nature like a hurricane.

We all tend to gravitate toward books that reflect our own experience, toward characters who look and act the way we do. I believe many white readers, if they are honest with themselves, will think, If I'm a white person, why should I read a book about African Americans? That doesn't have anything to do with me. Whites have the privilege of not thinking about race until some violence flares up on the news, and then we think of the issue as a fire to put out, not a sign of some endemic problem. This was true when I was growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s. It was true when I taught in San Francisco in the 90s. It's still true here in Boston in the 2010s. African Americans don't have the luxury of thinking about race only when it suits them. It is an omnipresent fact of life and death. It makes their experience of American society fundamentally different and exponentially more complicated. That's exactly why I'd recommend this book to white readers. Our bubble can be pretty thick. It is important for us to step outside ourselves.

Coates offers no answers, easy or otherwise. He believes in no grand vision. But he offers his son an honest assessment of his own experience and his own evolving thoughts on America. That's what rang true to me: a father talking candidly and caringly with his son. That's common ground I share with the author, as different as our experiences may be. This is a short book, easily finished in a couple of sittings, but it packs a punch. These issues aren't going away. They are only going to become more pressing. Read the book!
Profile Image for J Beckett.
142 reviews407 followers
January 11, 2016
Less than an hour ago (on 7/26/2015) I finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. As I read the last sentence, “Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets,” I was involuntarily overcome with inexplicable, yet wholly warranted emotion. Oddly, tears, my tears, tears perhaps I had been locking inside my fatherly bravado for a couple decades, came down in their own sheets, as thoughts of my child, my daughter, at fourteen years old, still having to face the daemonic vulgarities of a world she had no part in building but would be expected to repair, came to life.

The tears came because Coates, in a few pages, captured, exposed, unlocked and translated what so many people of color, so many frustrated and frightened parents, and so many disenfranchised and nomadic youth found so difficult to dictate and explain. For them, the feelings were there but the words simply would not come. I wept because Coates' story was my story from my early experiences as a student at Morehouse College (the Harvard of the South) to the wanderer (and discoverer) of beauty upon the Parisian landscape, to accepting my unexpected role as an English teacher in a tough and directionless Baltimore City, to my exploration and rebirth, producing who I am today.

Like so many, I was immediately taken to the oft quoted, extensively analyzed and eternally relevant essay, The Fire Next Time, written in 1962 by James Baldwin, as a “letter” to his nephew, written I suppose, for all the nephews in the world to analyze and digest. The similarities between Coates and Baldwin were uncanny, and certainly intentional, as "Between the World... was written by Coates to his son, as if a continuation to Baldwin’s last line from “The Fire…”:

“And everywhere there is the anguish of being black in a society that at times seems poised on the brink of total racial war.”

Yes, Coates released Between the World and Me, several weeks after the ‘unrest’ in Baltimore at the urging of his publisher, a timely and strategically perfect act and as an expose of tumultuous racial injustice and social chaos headlining the evening news the world over. He writes: “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” Indeed. Perhaps.

This is a book that must be read and passed on to the youth to read several times over; a book for universities and secondary schools to add to their bulging curriculum to produce and encourage meaningful dialogue without blame or bias. Between the World and Me, is a book that should be discussed over scones and tea and bags of potato chips, and shared during drives to grandma’s house in the country or the inner city. It should be read by all people regardless of color, creed, nationality or social belief. This is a book of substance and timeless relevance. It is the book we all know. Eagerly and with great expectation, I await the next Coates to continue the story between the world and us.
Profile Image for Joshunda Sanders.
Author 15 books400 followers
August 8, 2015
I'll get all of my disclaimers out of the way first. I am a fan of TNC but I also resent what he symbolizes. He is a great writer in his own right and he has the kind of co-signers in publishing and journalism that have offered him a platform that he has rightfully and eloquently expanded upon, utilized and maximized appropriately and used to catapult himself into the American race dialogue as one of the most prolific writers on race during our generation. My resentment of what he symbolizes comes from the absence of the same position and opportunity being afforded any Black American woman writer in our time. Essentially, my beef with TNC is not really beef with him at all as much as it is beef with the notion that a singular, vetted Black male voice has always been and continues to be viewed by non-Black readers, editors and consumers of racial rhetoric as the only voice that matters when it comes to writing eloquently about race and politics and intersectionality. All of that said, Between the World and Me has some great ideas and lines. The critique that black women are invisible or marginalized in the book is a faulty one; there is Mabel Jones, whose powerful testimony and grieving for her son closes the book and codifies the only perspective from which TNC would be able to include a black woman's voice - as mother, wife. There are the women he has loved at The Mecca, including his wife. There are authors that he includes in his wheelhouse of important influencers, Lucille Clifton, bell hooks and Toni Morrison. Speaking of Toni, I do not agree that this book is required reading generally. I get the comparisons to Baldwin but I am aggravated by them -- mainly because there is only one Baldwin. And Black writers need to be able to make their own legacies without immediate comparisons that perpetuate the limited imagination that America has for us...along with the continual reality that there can only ever be one valid, praised Black writer at a time. That said, I believe the central idea and argument -- that black bodies are not safe and that protection of them is not a requirement of realizing the American Dream -- will be a revelation for non-Black readers and a healing affirmation for Black readers who have until now not had their experience considered or regarded as anything other than a figment of their imagination or proof of their nihilism or some other sinister sentiment.
Profile Image for Regan.
457 reviews110k followers
June 9, 2023
Listen to the audio book if you can!
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,248 followers
August 6, 2023
Between the World and Me is a non-fiction story which is a letter from a black man to his son, Samori.

This book accomplishes what a news article cannot—it describes the feelings of being a black person in America, what it feels like to know that the police are not your friend, that they aren’t there to protect you, that they symbolize danger. When a black person is killed, people read about it in an article and move about their day, they don’t feel the weight of it, they don’t feel the true cost: all of the hours taking that child to football, private music lessons, spending hours together tutoring, that the deceased had a bright future.

Ta-Nehisi Coates also talks about The Dream. This is the standard that is idealized in the United States of America. Society celebrates those that conform to the social norms of a straight, white Christian man. Anyone who does not conform to these norms is not safe. He raises a good point. Would Barack Obama have been elected if he had dreads? What if he didn’t look like a black version of Iron Man? He is literally playing basketball in a button-up dress shirt! Why can’t society accept people for who they are? One character in the book stated, “By then I was the chief of radiology at the local hospital. And so they treated me with respect.” Why does someone have to be the chief of radiology before being given respect?

For additional reading on this subject, I would highly recommend White Feminism by Koa Beck and You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays by Zora Neale Hurston.

2022 Reading Schedule
Jan Animal Farm
Feb Lord of the Flies
Mar The Da Vinci Code
Apr Of Mice and Men
May Memoirs of a Geisha
Jun Little Women
Jul The Lovely Bones
Aug Charlotte's Web
Sep Life of Pi
Oct Dracula
Nov Gone with the Wind
Dec The Secret Garden

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Profile Image for Michael Spikes.
40 reviews31 followers
July 19, 2015
Folks that love Mr. Coates will love this book, as they'll be able to follow him through a piece that is somewhat indulgent -- but he certainly won't win new fans or quell his skeptics (like myself) with this piece of work. Coates says that he wanted to write like Baldwin, but it just comes across as a unfocused, stream of consciousness. As a black man who constantly battles with the work of Mr. Coates, I wanted to give this one a chance, as many lament tons of praise on the work -- but I for one still think that our perceptions of what it means to be a black man in America today are far different--my own not being one of privilege, but one that gives me much more hope than what Mr. Coates likes to deal out to his readers.
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,365 followers
August 7, 2015
I thought it was a little fishy that all the reviews on here are these reverent whispery multi-starred nods of agreement about how important this book is. I mean, that just never happens, especially with the "it" book of the moment : there are always naysayers and contrarians and people who just don't get what the BFD is. Since there's a copy lying around my house, I thought I'd check it out -- the season's "it" book is rarely just 152 pages and about a topic that interests me, so I was excited to participate in the cool thing for once, after missing out on Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games and Eat Pray Love and all the rest due to a combination of laziness and snobbery.

On some level I was hoping to be the don't-believe-the-hype hater on here, but Coates left me disappointed on that front. It did take me a little while to get into this but once he got to college I was hooked and couldn't stop even though it was late and I had to get up at 3am to catch a transcontinental flight. My main question before I read it was, "What new is there to say?" I'd noticed everyone had their panties all in a twist over this book about being black in America and based on what I'd heard I just didn't get what he could've said that seemed so revelatory and new.

The answer is, not too much really: it's more the way that he says it. Between the World and Me is an intensely personal book that's rooted in deeply-felt lived experience. As someone who is horrified by our era's obsession with memoir, I am occasionally floored when I see what a personal story can do. I recently read an essay online by a woman whose father had committed suicide that made me seriously rethink my antipathy towards memoir, and my response to this book was similar. So often the recounting of personal experience and private feelings comes off as dull, narcissistic, and unnecessary, but on occasion memoir transcends itself and is able to speak to something much larger than one person's life with an authority that nothing else can.

It doesn't need to be said but I'll point out anyway that a lot of this book's success has to do with timing. White Americans have been able to ignore a lot of this for a long time, but recently that's become almost impossible to do. In the past two weeks we've heard Sandra Bland's traffic stop and watched Samuel DuBose be murdered before our eyes and the trauma of witnessing these things, and the rest from the past year, has left pretty much everyone looking for answers.

This book did partially answer a huge question I've had for years that I'm sure a lot of other uninformed white people have but that's too offensive and embarrassing to ask black parents directly, which is, "What do you tell your kids? When do you tell them? And how do you reassure them that it's going to be alright, when as a parent you're supposed to help them feel things will be okay but you're also supposed to be honest and keep them safe?" This book is constructed as a letter to Coates's fifteen-year-old son, and the reason it's so satisfying is that it does not err on the side of false comfort and remains honestly bleak. It also gave me the uncomfortably excited feeling of access to a perspective I've always wanted to know more about but was -- yeah, I'll admit it -- afraid to ask.

I think pretty often about what makes me an adult, and maybe this sounds weird but one of the main things is understanding now what a big deal it is when people die. I feel like when I was a kid I didn't quite get that that actually happened, and then when I was a teenager I didn't think it was very serious, but when I grew up I finally saw that this was it, this was huge, this was almost the only thing that there was that mattered. Between the World and Me's main orientation is corporal: it's concerned with what happens to a person's body as ultimately the sole important thing. For me, this is a helpful way to think about racism. I remember one day when I was not so old, but not really that young either, reading that African American men have much shorter life expectancies than white American men due to health disparities, and it was like a light went off and I finally saw what racism was in a different and much truer way than I had before. So much discourse about race takes place in these abstract terms that speak about social construction and are preoccupied with the nuance of language and ideas, but there is something about a return to the body that blows that away. At the end of the day, redlining matters because it's created conditions in which black kids are more likely than white kids to get hit with a stray bullet while walking to school. It sounds foolishly obvious but police brutality and mass incarceration affect people in the most stark and concrete way: by ending lives, by physically hurting or locking up their bodies. Of course there are other reasons why racism is is a problem, but Coates's emphasis on the body, and his insistence that nothing else matters so much beyond that, resonated with me.

This is a book that takes our country's sweet language about having a dream and turns it into a bitter mouthful of ashes. I'm actually surprised it's so popular because I feel we as Americans crave optimism and promises of solutions, and Coates offers neither. There's a lot of beauty in the world, he says, and there are great things about being young, gifted and black or whatever, but he doesn't believe in any moral arc of the universe tilting toward justice or in any of this getting especially better, which according to him (spoiler alert!) will be a moot point anyway soon because we'll all be underwater.

A short, well-written, timely book that I, along with everyone else, recommend.
Profile Image for Pascal.
23 reviews85 followers
September 4, 2015
I've read Coates work in the Atlantic for years now and my fundamental impression of him is unchanged. His limited Black liberal anti-racist appeals to White guilt illustrate his total inability to escape the narrow racial essentialist vision of Black identity. Coates in his book reduces America to basically two categories: The Dreamers, (White Americans) and the rest being Black folk. This thinking demonstrates such a pedestrian understanding of America, especially when considering that the "Empire," as Coates once correctly refers to this nation, is headed by a Black president, Attorney General, and Director of Homeland Security. Coates has no explanation for how the "black bodies" he often laments, are being crushed by law enforcement mechanisms which are under the legal purview of a Black Woman. His total lack of effective class analysis further demonstrates that Coates has not evolved past a Martin vs. Malcolm understanding of Black America. Coates' inability to explain American oppression outside of mere anti-black racism is also troubling in its banality. No critique of capitalism that explains why it needs racism and a complete lack of materialist analysis outside the totally unoriginal rhetoric of "America was built on our backs." Coates' myopic race speak drivel offers no remedy or policy, simple grievance and complaint. In that way his voice is perfect for our neoliberal age which so perfectly uses identity politics cries for representation in the "upper management" cue to maintain the Empire. There are neither original arguments or thoughts in this book. Simply grievance based cries for white attention.
Profile Image for Rob Slaven.
480 reviews55 followers
March 11, 2016
I received this book free for review from ShelfAwareness in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

Written in the form of a letter from a father to a son, "Between the World and Me" is a detailed crystallization of the state of racism in our country today and its historical roots throughout the entire history of our country.

My normal review format is to prattle on about positive and negative aspects of a book but in this case I think it's really more important to the potential reader that they understand what exactly it is that they're getting.

For those who want a light breezy primer on racism... this is not it. This is profound and erudite and is the sort of book you could pick apart sentence by sentence for a year and at the end of that year just shake your head in despair. What Coates has done, like I've never seen before, is passionately and profoundly lay out the sad state of race relations in this country. The book reads like a PhD thesis as it patiently and methodically makes its points and then proves them.

The book is also infinitely quotable. I read a few passages aloud to my fiancee and her wide-eyed reaction was to simply mouth the word "wow". Coates strings words together in a most elegant tapestry that forces the reader to think carefully and internalize the grim realities of life as a victim of racism in this country. Read so that ye may weep and know the truth.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.

Rob Slaven
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Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,515 followers
December 17, 2015
"But all our phrasing- race relations, racial chasms, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy- serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth." - Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

A couple of days ago I posted on Twitter a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme entitled "Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind." I love the painting, the title, and I think that's how truth can appear to some people; scary but perhaps appealing as well. On a similar note, I love the honest, truthful accounts people are writing about their lives these days. I've often spoken of the gratitude I feel in particular to the different black writers who have given their unique perspectives that have helped paint a bigger picture about what it means to be black in the West. Although most literature is focused on the USA, so many of us who don't live there understand to a certain extent the experiences.

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Jean-Léon Gérôme- "Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind."

So I read this eloquent and detailed response to the world, a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coate's teenage son, and I'm glad I did. The comparisons to Baldwin are very apt, especially having read "The Fire Next Time." Baldwin's book, one of my favourite pieces of writing, is still very applicable to our time, and Coates' has been written specifically for our time with several modern references. I recognized many familiar names; Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, and Michael Brown, and others.

This is less of a book review than a response to what emotions and thoughts the book brought out in me, so it might sound a bit disjointed.

I can't even begin to imagine the pain and difficulty many black people face when raising their children in a hostile world, a world that does very little to treat black people as worthy. Several of the adults in my family had the "race talk" with me. From a young age I knew how I was likely to be perceived, and I was taught ways that I could lessen the impact, and I realized as I got older how exhausting it is to live like this, very often on guard.The adults in my family and community did their best to create a safe environment for the kids despite society's obviously powerful presence. And I don't know if all the repercussions of living in such a world were completely evident to them because perhaps they expected racism and hardships for several reasons, but for someone like me who was raised in the West, my thoughts have always been "I am practically one of you, your society socialized me, why do I still feel this feeling of unbelonging?"

The last few years have been very trying and we're dealing with a lot of backlash from discourses about race and what to do about racism. This book helps to show there is no way to forget our skin colour because we are treated based on what we look like, not on who we are. I often see the onus is on marginalized people to change their ways of reacting to racism, and when I read this book I am more aware of how pervasive racism is in all parts of society, and the effects it has on minorities living in these societies.

"We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West."

I appreciate Coates' discussion of education as he saw it and experienced it. I think it's very telling and clearly shows that the role of the schools was to uphold white supremacy. I can speak from experience that as a black person learning in history class that the main contributions your ancestors have contributed have been slavery, is disheartening, yet I felt grateful that my history was even touched on. It took me well into my 20s, and on my own accord, to study black history that didn't focus on slavery. And the effects of that were obviously huge, and made me realize that my people had contributed so much more than is readily admitted.

When I read the story of Coate's friend who was shot and killed by police, I found his reminiscences of his friend very poignant, and adding more depth to what it means for a black person to be killed for no reason but the colour of their skin:

"Think of all the love poured into him...And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all the holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flying back to the earth."

This book is full of profound quotes and thoughts that I'm still thinking about weeks later:

"It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moment we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered."

I could really go on and on about this book because there is so much to say. I'm very thankful I was able to read it.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
June 24, 2019
I was both very impressed and frustrated with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Written as a letter to his son, Coates presents racism and white privilege as a visceral experience, with much discussion, especially early in the book about what it means to lose your (black) body. I’m not going to explain what Coates means by losing your body; you should read how he frames this in the context of both American history and his own experience.

While I intend to re-read the first half of the book, the second half feels repetitious. Even though I am convinced that the U.S. still has unresolved structural and institutional problems which allow the continuation of racism and oppression, I don’t feel that Coates offers either a solution or any call to action. If, as Coates points out numerous times, it’s not enough for individuals to recognize how racism operates in this country (and thus act in ways which aren’t prejudiced), what’s the answer? If individuals can’t be a force for change, is it even helpful to recognize white privilege in the first place? 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars because (while I may fairly or unfairly want more) I do feel this is a powerful work that should be read.
Profile Image for Richard.
785 reviews
June 6, 2020
I opened this book expecting to find a reasoned analysis of the situation in which many black Americans find themselves today, along with a reasonable set of recommended solutions to their problems. That is not what I found at all. I read the book because I saw and heard Mr. Coates on several TV news and talk shows, and I thought he might have something of value to contribute to the national discussion. I was wrong.

Mr. Coates is a very angry man. His ideas have been shaped by other angry men. He is every bit as warped as the most virulent of white supremacists. The only difference is that he is bent in a different direction. This book is nothing more than a hate-filled diatribe that seeks to blame white America for all of the problems that can currently be found within the black culture and community in the United States.

In the book, the author portrays a white America that is totally removed from reality. He describes brooks running through the back yards of white children, and white boys pushing their toy trucks through the trees adjoining those brooks. I don’t know how to tell him this, but there is a great deal of white America that comes nowhere near this idyllic dream of how white Americans live. This world exists only in the sick mind of Mr. Coates.

Coates apparently used the shooting death of Michael Brown as the inspiration to write this book. He constantly harks back to this event throughout the book, making allegations and implications that are without merit. Never mind that Michael Brown has been proven to have been a criminal and a thug who committed a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store, walked down the middle of a street intended for motor vehicles (which is probably against the law in every city in America), refused to obey a lawful order from a police officer, physically fought with that officer through the open window of a police cruiser, attempted to seize the officer’s firearm, caused the firearm to discharge at least twice while it was still inside the vehicle, and then turned and charged the officer when that officer attempted to detain and arrest him. Coates takes none of these facts into consideration in his hateful screed, insisting, instead, that the shooting death of Michael Brown was unjustified. He ignores the fact that a lot of people who have read the transcript of the Grand Jury hearings believe otherwise, as did the Grand Jury, itself.

Mr. Coates emphasizes the fact that the body of Michael Brown remained in the street for more than four hours, and that the police did nothing to remove it. He ignores the fact that, under Missouri Law, nobody but a Coroner, Medical Examiner or a member of that person’s staff is allowed to move or remove a body when a crime might be involved. This is also true of many other jurisdictions, and Coates could have learned this had he made any attempt to do so. It took a significant amount of time to complete the crime scene investigations, and for the Medical Examiner’s staff to remove the body, and this is often the case in smaller jurisdictions that must rely on a Coroner or ME from a different jurisdiction. It is unfortunate that the system works this way, but it does. Mr. Coates would do well to spend less time whining and more time learning about how his governments work at all levels. The color of the skin of the victim makes absolutely no difference to the operation of a Coroner or Medical Examiner’s office. With limited resources, they do their jobs the best they can, and if it had been a white person who had been killed, the body would probably have remained at the scene for the same amount of time.

The author goes on to blame the school system where he attended school for many of the problems that he faced later in his life. He believes that the courses and curriculum offered by schools should be tailored specifically for black people who, presumably, share his philosophies. This, rather than to impart the knowledge that history has shown us that humans need in order to succeed and thrive. How selfish and self-centered is that? Never mind that white kids probably sat in the same classrooms and studied the same course work taught by the same teachers as Coates, but probably did not feel that they were cheated out of an education.

Mr. Coates projects his own hatreds, his own anger, his own fears onto all black people. What gives him this right – the right to speak for all African-Americans? He says it! On page #29 he says: “all black people.” He’s just wrong. There are many black people who did not grow up with the hate, the anger, and the fear that Coates describes. President Barack Obama comes to mind. As does General Colin Powell, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and many, many more.

Many of the conclusions reached by the author and related in the book are based on false assumptions. On one page, for example, Coates talks about the first black “five star general.” To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a black five star general because there have been only five five-star generals in US history: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, Arnold, and Marshall. I don’t believe that any of them was black. The rank of five-star general was created in 1944. Generals who carried the title of “General of the Army” wore only four stars before 1944. In addition, four US Navy Admirals were granted the rank of five stars during WWII. None of them was black. There are no five-star generals of any skin color serving today because it is a temporary rank that is only granted during wartime. Coates has not done the research expected and required for such a serious book.

On page #83 of the book, the author acknowledges that the member of the Prince George’s Police Deportment who shot and killed his friend Prince Jones “was black,” saying: “The officer who killed Prince Jones was black. The politicians who empowered this officer to kill were black. Many of the black politicians, many of them twice as good, seemed unconcerned. How could this be?” Even though he says this, he is able to blame white America for the death, and for all problems in the black community. It makes absolutely no sense, and I do not understand his reasoning at all. Coates then goes on to make a point of claiming that no criminal charges were ever filed against the officer who killed his friend, and that is true. Coates fails to mention, however, that a civil damages suit against the officer and the county was successful, and Prince Jones’ daughter will receives a total of $4.6 million in damages to be paid in regular installments until she reaches the age of 40. The Prince George’s County undercover narcotics corporal was found to be civilly responsible for Jones’ wrongful death.

On page #86 of his book, Coates revealingly tells us that: “I would never consider any American citizen pure.” He says it in the context of blaming all of America for the death of his friend Prince Jones. He apparently reaches this conclusion while standing on the roof of his apartment watching the plumes of smoke rising from the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. I found his words to be a startling revelation of the amount of hatred in his heart. On the very next page, Coates goes on to tell us that: “I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died.” How warped and twisted is it to compare American heroes to somebody who was, in all likelihood, a cold-blooded murderer?

The author describes walking through his neighborhoods in Flatbush, in Harlem, in Baltimore, and having to deal with the “same boys with the same bop, the same ice grill, and the same code” that he had known all his life. Even though all of these boys that he refers to are black, he still blames all of his problems on the white race. Coates has apparently concluded that all evils perpetrated against black people, or white people, is done so by other white people. This idea is so patently absurd and false that it is beyond reason. In Africa, for example, there are terrorist groups that commit terrible acts of violence and evil against the population, and against anybody else that they can find, including innocent white shoppers at a mall in Kenya. These groups are predominantly black. Boko Haram is just one example of such a group. al-Shabaab is another. Coates probably has never heard of them because he is so narrowly-focused.

The author’s thoughts and narrative ignore the fact that non-whites and non-blacks routinely perpetrate vicious acts of violence and evil against other members of the same race. North Korea is an example. Perhaps Coates has never heard of North Korea. Maybe he knows nothing at all about the Taliban, or al-Qaeda. Or, in spite of his referral to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he knows nothing at all about the Gulag and its forced labor camps in Siberia. Does he believe that the inmates who are held there in slavery are all black?

The author repeatedly refers to the myth of Trayvon Martin. He compares Martin to Prince Jones. Actually, there is no comparison, and if Coates had bothered to watch the George Zimmerman trial, or if he had bothered to read the trial transcripts, he, too, could know the truth about Trayvon Martin. The two incidents were totally different with absolutely no relationship to each other. It seems like whenever something bad happens to a black man, Coates universally blames it on white racism. Trayvon Martin was killed by a Hispanic man who was trying to defend himself from a brutal assault. What does that have to do with the white race? What does it have to do with the police? What does it have to do with the death of Prince Jones, who might very well have been murdered.

The author seems to be keenly aware of the black experience in two large Eastern American cities: Baltimore and New York. He also seems to be very familiar with the history of black slavery in the Southern United States up to and through the Civil War. However, he seems to be totally unaware of the human experience in other parts of the world, including the Far East, the Middle East, Europe and many other places. His perspective is, therefore, very, very narrow.

On pages #108 and #109 Coates describes the heart-rending eviction of a black family from its home in Chicago. He tries to convey the sense that only black people ever get evicted from their homes. The very first real eviction that I ever saw or heard of was when I watched one of my neighbors, a white man, be evicted from his longtime family home. Several of my neighbors lost their homes and were evicted after the Great Recession of 2008. None of them was black. Evictions take place every day somewhere in the United States. Not all of those being evicted are black, contrary to the author’s attempt to convince us otherwise. I feel pity for Coates, but I feel even more pity for his son, who is doomed to grow up in a household dominated by two emotions: hatred and anger.

On pages #111 through #113 the author, as is his way, relates an incomplete, twisted, and inaccurate portrayal of the shooting death of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. Coates says: “. . . the killer was convicted not of the boy’s murder but of firing repeatedly as the boy’s friends attempted to retreat.” He then continued: “Destroying the black body was permissible – but it would be better to do it efficiently.” The truth of the matter is that the killer, a man named Michael David Dunn, was actually convicted of one count of first degree murder, three counts of attempted second degree murder, and one count of shooting into a car. He has been sentenced to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The killer did not escape justice. It appears, then, that destroying a black body is not permissible at all. How many of you who have, or will, read this book would know that Coates is being dishonest on this matter? It is clear that he sees everything through the prism of race.

Coates certainly could have done what I, and probably many others, did and downloaded the trial and grand jury hearing transcripts so that he could learn the truth. He didn’t. Coates could have heard the same sworn testimony that the jury heard in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial, but he didn’t. He prefers to wallow in his hatred and his anger, perpetuating lies and distortions because they fit with his sick, twisted world view. Then, he compares a proven thug, strong-arm robber of convenience stores, and assaulter of a police officer to his own son? How sick is that? Is he raising a thug and a criminal?

Unless you have a high tolerance for sick, twisted propaganda, you should probably skip this book. It is a hate-filled screed that is not worthy of attention from reasonable, sane readers.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2016
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is an essay to his teenaged son. Toni Morrison on the cover maintains that this should be required reading. In this short yet powerful message, Coates delivers a rap on race and offers hope to African Americans in their struggle to maintain their culture.

Coates is a respected journalist and essayist and here writes a lyrical prose that had me captivated from the first pages. His message is simple- African Americans have to work twice as hard because of their bodies and the never ending struggle to prevail in a culture where the color of their skin works against them. It does not matter if one has been brought up in the projects, suburbia, or wealthy, gated communities- the struggle is the same. There will always be an undercurrent of fear just below the surface of a bringing a black child into the world and raising him/her free of violence, free of the brutality of an unjust system.

There will always be pressure to be a Dreamer to get out and Coates warns people of acting white. He interviews Dr. Mabel Jones, respected radiologist and mother of his murdered classmate Prince Jones. The daughter of sharecroppers, Dr. Jones was determined to make a better life for herself, to the point of integrating a high school and later as an adult sending her children to private schools. Yet despite her dream of her son attending Harvard, he chose Howard, the Mecca for black students who need a space to be themselves, to flaunt their rap and hip hop and African culture. And yet despite this upbringing, her son was still murdered for being black. The advice she gives to Coates, which he pens poignantly, is to still be oneself, to not be afraid to wear a hoodie and to play rap music. To act white is to give into the authority which has already denied the culture for the last 240 years.

Between the World and Me is an eye opening experience to me. I had just read In the Heat of the Night where colored officer Virgil Tibbs is denied respect simply for being black. After reading it, I think that we have come a long way as a nation in the past 50 years. Then, I read Coates essay where he bluntly states that as a parent of a black child, he is fearful for him to go out into the world. Have we advanced in 50 years? Coates published this piece in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, spurning race riots in Baltimore. The riots got so bad that the city had to be on lockdown, even forcing a baseball game to be played in an empty stadium. This seems to be one step forward, two steps back, and Coates' essay has been distributed at a key moment in our nation's history.

I agree with Toni Morrison that Between the World and Me should be required reading in schools. It could turn out to be the definitive discourse on race for this generation and an important read for students before they enter the world at large. It should only take a few hours to read, maybe a little longer for students, and generates important discussions in and out of the classroom. The United States is a melting pot of cultures and no one should have to renounce their culture due to the color of their skin. A poignant read that I rate 5 stars, I highly recommend Between the World and Me to all.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
February 9, 2017
Freedom, opportunity and education are all part of being equal citizens in the first world. But these are things of the mind. If you can't even keep the body safe, then what use are intellectual pursuits and a law guaranteeing you rights? And in seems in America that Black people find it very hard to keep their bodies safe.

Who goes to prison more for drugs? Black people, although White people commit more drug offences being as they form the bulk of the population. Why is crack cocaine punished more harshly than cocaine use? Is it because one is a drug of the ghetto and the other of corporate executives? Why is death row filled with more Black people than White when more crimes in general, murder included are by Whites because of their numbers? Why are cops trigger-happy when they see Black people, perhaps especially young men? What does it do to the psyche of Black people when they daily face having to protect their body from harm or death? Even children on the way to school. What did they ever do? You would think that people remembering why Blacks are in the US at all would have a totally different attitude.

I have two Black sons. One of them is tall, handsome and loud. He has his own business and always drives very slowly so he can hail everyone he knows. He has beautifully-groomed dreadlocks but is not a rasta, he doesn't do any kind of drugs, he's strictly a Heineken man. I have always dissuaded him from going to the US, go anywhere but there. American cops don't like big Black guys with loud voices and long locks. Go anywhere but the US.

The other is wooden boat builder. He in conjunction with the college builds and repairs the traditional wooden boats of the island. His grandfather and family were famous boat builders of three-masted schooners. He also races boats at the highest level, helming for CEOs of banks and visiting diplomats in competitions. He has braids, and sometimes earrings, and likes US ghetto-style clothes complete with gang-style head wrap occasionally (time he grew out of it but still....).

Since he is used to giving orders on racing boats for MDs etc and expects them to be followed, he doesn't really have any idea of the respect Blacks are supposed to pay White authority figures in the US as Ta-Nehisi Coates prescribes. He's milder-mannered than his brother, not so loud, always laughing but he can argue, that boy can really argue. I try and dissuade him too from going to the US. I tell him to travel the world but don't go there...

I am frightened for my sons, they risk prison at the least with their attitudes, I think a lot of West Indians from professional families have them. I do wonder how they do in the US compared to African-Americans.

Coates travelled in Europe and didn't find the institutionalised racism that permeates the US. Racism is there undoubtedly, but it isn't built into every old building that slave labour put up, or every farm that was a plantation, or every school that was once segregated because there was never slavery in Europe. but as Coates writes to his son, this book, this letter, take care of yourself in the US because, frankly, they are out to get to you.

The link between then - going after escaped slaves who won't stay in their place and do as they are told and treat the White man with respect. Punish them, make an example of them, and so what if they die in the process? - and now seems to be a very short one. But for some of us, for the author, for my family, we are "them".

Notes on reading the book.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
July 22, 2015
Hmm. A lot to think about here. Stay tuned.
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
412 reviews2,221 followers
June 6, 2020
Posted at Heradas

5/27/20 update: Obviously people still need to read this book, because this shit keeps happening. Already read it? Buy another copy and give it to a friend.

A deeply illuminating, honest look at the realities of being black in America, written as a letter to the author's teenage son. It doesn't insult by offering a solution to the problems, but aims only to make the reader acknowledge the deeply internalized, institutionalized racism, hate, and fear that built America and the American Dream. Read it.

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free.”

"..a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker."

"The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself."

"I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. But perhaps I too had the capacity for plunder, maybe I would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community. Perhaps I already had. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe. But my tribe was shattering and reforming around me."
Profile Image for Warda.
1,208 reviews19.7k followers
May 30, 2020

Let me start off by saying that Toni Morrison has said, this book is required reading. So get yourself a copy! It's necessary reading for the current climate that we are in that is only portraying a single, skewed narrative and on the same side of that coin damaging and manipulating a narrative that needs to be heard.

As you may know, this book speaks about race in America, starting from the days of slavery till now, to provide us with this viewpoint that makes the reader understand ‘what it is like to inhabit a black body.’
It's almost like a personal diary from Coates to his son explaining how it is we have come to the state we are in, and to offer consolation to his son through it.

This is such a beautifully written book. I love that the author was able to write with such clarity that enabled the reader to really be put in a black person's shoes. To understand their culture and to comprehend that the root cause of it all is fear; that is what is driving these people forward as it is their only means of survival. Crippling fear where your guard is up 24/8 because you know that as soon as you step out into that world you have a target set and ready on your back, translating into a harshness within an individual that at its essence is fear. And Coates lets the reader (and his son) view this fear through his eyes, his upbringing and experiences and understanding of the world.

I was just on the constant verge of tears, whether it was out of anger or sadness, because what else are you meant to feel when you know that a specific group of people are completely broken down due to the colour of their skin? Yet, he actually speaks on understanding the 'white’ mentality. This book is full of empathy, it seeps out of every word, every sentence that is constructed

He speaks on identity, the social construct of races, the all American Dream that is a facade and build on the back of slavery, police brutality and the concept of whiteness.

It's not all doom and gloom. There is hope, there has to be and he shares beautiful moments in his life where barriers within himself are broken and clarity poured in, that the world is much more than America and the toxic narrative/lifestyle they put forth and the simple wonders of life that we take for granted.

I know that this is a book that I'll casually flick through every now again. I've filled it with my thoughts, which I'll probably have to add to as my perspective of this world changes and my own understanding grows. It was truly an an eye-opening read. I feel invigorated and my mind is more curious, hungry and eager to find out more.

Initial review.
Review to come when I can think straight, but this has to be one of the most harrowing and truthful (modern) accounts on what it means to be black in America.

Incredible, incredible book!
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,842 followers
March 12, 2016
An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.

The moment I really fell for Ta-Nehisi Coates was during his interview on the Diane Rehm’s show after he was asked his opinions on gun control. The question came after a statement by him about the safety of his son living in Paris as opposed to the United States with regard to the rampant gun violence in the US. Gun control is a very ‘hot-button’ issue in the US as of present, and anything this journalist from The Atlantic said was sure to become another .gif in the meme politics of American social media. Coates gave the classiest of answers possible, declining to address an opinion on gun control due to a confessed lack of proper, journalistic research. He listed many socio-political issues he felt he was well-researched upon enough to give an opinion, but on gun control he lacked a ready-built answer complete with statistics and citation so he felt it would be improper to broadcast his opinion on the matter. As Wittgenstein wrote ‘whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ This classy response won me over even more so than his reading from his book Between the World and Me,’ though it is highly recommended you listen to his wonderfully cadenced voice recite the pure poetry that flows through his book¹. The National Book Award winning book is written in the form of a letter to his son—' I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’—and addresses the issues of racism and racial violence prevalent in the United State and how it is a product of American history itself. ‘You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.’ Coates letter is an extraordinarily blunt and honest stance in the depths of storm, highlighting the violent lunacy of racism—‘race is the child of racism, not the father’—opening our eyes to the real immediacy of violence and white privilege in a poise and prose sure to leave readers awestruck in it’s powerful wake.

Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.

Around the time I was toying with the idea of picking up this book (I rarely read non-fiction but the rerun of his interview on NPR was the clincher that brought me that very day to a bookstore found on my Wednesday delivery route) I was pulled over one night for a routine traffic stop. The events that followed lead me to understand what the phrase 'check your privilege’ truly meant. To my ignorance, the right, front headlight of my car wasn’t working and when I saw the flashing lights of a county cop I immediately pulled over and fretted over how I would manage to afford the ticket for whatever infraction I had committed. My mind was abuzz with my lack of finances and confusion over what I could possibly have been pulled over for, at no point thinking ‘this could be the moment my life is ended, my body destroyed.’ The police officer was extremely friendly and helpful. It wasn’t until I was driving away that I realized he never asked for my vehicle registration or even bothered to ask if the car was registered in my name. He asked if I had been drinking and when I smiled and said ‘not yet, sir’ he laughed and replied ‘have to ask, don’t worry, I believe you.’ It was a simple experience. In no point was I eyed suspiciously, my car wasn’t searched, the police officer didn’t pull me out readily questioning if I even legally had possession of the car. That was a flat out privilege that I was able to coast through this so easily..

Imagine now, if you will, had I been a different race. Social media has been filled in the recent year with police-cam videos showing black men and women treated with hostility from the get-go in routine stops and many horrifying clips that finish with the officer discharging his weapon into an unarmed black motorist. Undoubtedly, my mind would have been on much more than simply 'oh no, how will I pay for this,’ but more along the anxiety lines of ‘am I going to be hauled to jail or killed out of this encounter?’ Yes, I had benefited from a moment of White Privilege, and I can’t just walk away from this without reminding those who also benefit from this to keep it in mind, in constant check, and remember that we coexist with those who do not benefit from this.
Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others...
Discussing White Privilege is not about discrediting someone’s shortcomings or problems because they are white as many seem to mistake it, it is not about saying white people are less important, it is simply about remembering that your race has dealt you a different hand. For better or for worse. It’s just about being self aware. Much like how Black Lives Matter does not mean White lives don’t matter, but about reminding you that black lives do matter too in a world that sometimes neglects to think about it, that all lives matter.

So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope

Between the World and Me delivers horrific account after horrific account of what living on the side of those who are destroyed, as he often puts it, simply for not being of the benefiting race. He reminds you of the fear, the hate, the violence and the fury boiling in the reality of the racial problems in America, and reminds you that it is a man-made and perpetuated problem.
[A]ll our phrasing--race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy--serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.
Coates refuses to let the issue be sugar-coated and rubs the reader’s nose in the gore and terror of reality to make sure you will not forget it. He does not make apologies. The naysayers frequently like to dismiss the horrible murders mentioned in the book by pointing out that the victim had been committing a crime, yet this is grossly missing the point. Remember the ‘I can’t breathe!’ incident from a year or so ago, where the man was strangled by a police office responding to him illegally selling cigarettes? His crime in no way negates the fact that his arrest led directly and immediately to his death. ‘Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed,’ Coates reminds us. The punishment in no way equals the crime. The police officer should not be the judge, jury and executioner, the punishment of death is not theirs to decide. What is worse is that ‘The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.’ From Michael Brown to Prince Jones, Coates looks deep into the death of men at the hands of police.

All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.

In order to fully learn a lesson one must not just retain the knowledge but also act upon the knowledge. Don’t just be a sword in it’s scabbard on the battlefield of society. Recognizing white privilege isn’t enough, and neither is writing this review. I must always keep it in mind, recognize it and act with it in each moment and breath like the religiously devout and then reconfigure myself to help others; I must see the message and deliver it for the good of all humankind with each and every action I undertake. I want to take the plunge, to walk that peaceful warrior’s road, and I want you all to walk with me. It’s the only way to a better horizon. Ta-Nehisis Coates emphasizes on one particular race issue, but the message is easily expandable and adaptable to shelter all race, sexual orientation and gender issues under it’s empowering umbrella. I brought a daughter into this world and I don’t want it to be one she will regret having been forced into. This could and should be a world where we don’t see race—it feels necessary to reiterate Ta-Nehisi’s point that race is a symptom, not the infection—or gender, but the human race as a whole. The most common criticisms of Between the World and Me are that he is not saying anything new or, as Eddie Glaude, author of the wonderful Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, states that Ta-Nehisi only questions without offering solutions (far from condemning Ta-Nehisi, Glaude goes on to praise the man for at least asking the right questions in his own interview on the Diane Rehm’s Show). However, what succeeds in heroic fashion for Coates is his infectiously beautiful prose which impregnates the reader with his ideology through the purity of it’s complicated simplicity and power. He opens eyes like a sunrise. We must all take his words to heart. It’s a difficult road, but I’ll take your hand if you’ll take mine and we will squeeze them with the brave reassurance as one would squeeze the hand of a terminal cancer patient. Let us not allow racism to be the tumor of society, let us not fall victim to the fear of the Other. Let us forge a brighter future.


You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this

¹ The interview between Coates and Diane Rehm can be found here.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,304 reviews27.9k followers
June 17, 2020
“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.”

This book was freaking stunning and written so beautiful, the writing is so raw and honest and I can't really put into words how this moved me. This should be required reading as it is very educational and eye opening and I strongly urge everyone to read this.

“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”
Profile Image for carol..
1,574 reviews8,230 followers
February 14, 2018
Drawing on an established tradition by American writers of color, 'Between the World and Me' is Ta-Nehisi Coates' own letter to his son. While I was reading, I heard loud echoes of of black writers passing on their experiences with race issues through their lives, including James Balwin's "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation, 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X and MLK Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail.' Interestingly, it also reminded me of Krishnamurti, who talks a great deal about being blinded by the Dream. In his case, Krishnamurti means blinded by the seemingly 'real' and concrete world around us at the expense of the world of the spirit. In Coates' case, he's referring to the degree to which people adopt and believe the (American) Dream and how it and its tradition is defined.

"The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people “ but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people “ to actually mean."

There's an intriguing theme running through the book about the importance of control over one's body and space, and the lack of control--both historic and current--black people have over their own. Coates frequently singles out treatment of black skin in the hands of the police, as well as armed citizens, drawing upon the well-publicized cases where black people have died strictly as a result of misconception and racism. His examples and references are wide-ranging and integrated into the writing, sometimes almost as an aside. He doesn't go much into issues of legal justice or the prison system, I think because he is partly consumed with the perception of safety and freedom, when the evidence is in front of us all that people of color are not equally safe or free. He muses on the meaning of freedom of the body and social significance without feeling the need to prove the validity of his perception. If you want to understand racism statistically, look elsewhere. He will not explain for you its ubiquitous nature.

"The truth is that the police reflect America and all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority."

"I knew that these were theories... that justified the jails springing up around me, that argued for ghettos and projects, that viewed the destruction of the black body as incidental to the preservation of order. According to this theory “safety” was a higher value than justice."

One of my favorite things about Coates--I have more than one--is that his work reflects chewing at the meat of meaning, to find sustenance in what he consumes and experiences. He is very much involved in a Socratic process. He understands meaning, subjectivity, and change, and I loved the way he acknowledges it:

"But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”—as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty."

Such questioning seems to lead him to be less optimistic than his forebearers. He lacks the general love of humanity that Baldwin has, and yet who can fault him?

"It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own especial Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness."

Wide-ranging and thoughtful, I'd highly recommend it for anyone. I'd particularly recommend it for white Americans as part of the process of addressing their own beliefs in the Dream, or for Americans of color who might be looking for reflections and validations of some of their own experiences. There's too many people still who don't understand or believe how many Americas there are, and seemingly find it hard to believe that their own (white) experience isn't universal.

"History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life."
Profile Image for Caz (littlebookowl).
302 reviews40.2k followers
October 24, 2016
4.5/5 stars!

I listened to the audiobook for this, which was superb, I love that the author narrated it. I do think that I would really benefit from re-reading this physically, as at some points I got lost and not everything stuck in my mind. I want to have the chance to take it slow, savour the incredible writing and really feel the power of his words.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
October 26, 2015
Reading this book was like being punched in the gut. But it's a blow I hope more people can take because this book needs to be read.

Structured as a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about what it means to be a black man in America. His writing is eloquent and powerful, beautiful and heartbreaking, strident and yet bleak. When I first started reading, I thought I would finish it in one day because the book isn't very long. But it was so provocative that often I could only read a few pages before I had to set the book down to think about it more deeply.

Coates talks about his childhood, his education, his early days of trying to find work as a writer, the fears he has as a parent, and underneath it all is the issue of race. An especially poignant section was when he wrote about a college friend, Prince Jones, who was shot and killed by police. When Coates writes about the treatment of blacks by police, his simmering anger starts to boil.

You would be a man one day, and I could not save you from the unbridgeable distance between you and your future peers and colleagues, who might try to convince you that everything I know, all the things I'm sharing with you here, are an illusion, or a fact of a distant past that need not be discussed. And I could not save you from they police, from their flashlights, their hands, their nightsticks, their guns. Prince Jones, murdered by the men who should have been his security guards, is always with me, and I knew that soon he would be with you ...

All my life I'd heard people tell their black boys and black girls to "be twice as good," which is to say "accept half as much." These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. That is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.

This epistle is about 150 pages long, but there were so many incredible passages that I think I set a record for percentage of pages marked in one book. Here is another remarkable section, which caused me to scrawl HOLY SH*T on the Post-It:

The birth of a better world is not ultimately up to you, though I know, each day, there are grown men and women who tell you otherwise. The world needs saving precisely because of the actions of these same men and women. I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you. And you must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful — the policeman who cracks you with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in your furtive movements. And this is not reducible to just you — the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you never will know. You have to make peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton and gold.

After reading that page, I immediately emailed a colleague who teaches an African American Literature course to make sure she knew about this book. She emailed back that she had read it and loved it, and described Coates as being "the James Baldwin of our time." I like that quote, but I think even James Baldwin would be depressed that this book had to be written in 2015. We can be better.

More Good Quotes
"I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner chocked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone's grandmother, on the side of a road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy ... The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include frisking, detaining, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible."

"To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear. The law did not protect us. And now, in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping and frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body. But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker. However you call it, the result was our infirmity before the criminal forces of the world. It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black — what matters is our condition, what matters is the system that makes your body breakable."

"I think now of the old rule that held that should a boy be set upon in someone else's chancy hood, his friends must stand with him, and they must all take their beating together. I now know that within this edict lay the key to all living. None of us were promised to end the fight on our feet, fists raised to the sky. We could not control our enemies' number, strength, nor weaponry. Sometimes you just caught a bad one. But whether you fought or ran, you did it together, because that is the part that was in our control. What we must never do is willingly hand over our own bodies or the bodies of our friends."

"I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all."
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,169 followers
August 14, 2016
This is an extremely important book that should be read. I am late to the party so there is not much for me to say that others haven't.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The one thing I will say is that I had to start and stop the audio so many times that I found myself frustrated. I think that I will listen to it again when I am alone with nothing to distract me. For now I'm giving it 4 Stars. It is only a little over 3 hours long and extremely well narrated by the author.

People are correct when they say this should be required reading.

If you are going to listen to the audio version make sure you have enough time to listen to it in one or two sittings without distractions.

Highly recommended to anyone who has yet to read it.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
August 3, 2015
I honestly do not feel right putting a rating on this man's experiences, heartfelt thoughts and wishes for his son. I grew up in Chicago and I have seen more than my fair share of the racial divide. Yet, I have never before read an eye opening book like this one. I am not going to express my views on what I think of what he wrote, my opinions have no place here. This is his viewpoint, shared by many of the black race and that is what I found astonishing, because it gave me an inside look at how they feel and why they might react the way they do. Well written, better in some parts than others but yes a must read, regardless of where you stand on the race issue.
Profile Image for Lissa.
1,131 reviews115 followers
August 3, 2017
Damn I hated this book, and it really surprises me to say that, because I thought that I would like this book. I thought that it would be thought-provoking, deep look at racism in contemporary America.

It was not.

Instead, it was basically the rantings of a very, very angry man. And hey, who am I to say that Coates doesn't deserve to be angry? I don't know him. I wouldn't want to, either, after reading this book, to be honest.

But Coates seems to attribute every slight, perceived or real, as being attributable to white people and white oppression.

Now, before I continue, allow me to say that I do not check the "white" box when I have to fill out forms. I am not white. I am Jewish. And people may feel like they have the right to tell me that I am white (Coates amongst them, actually), but that is NOT change the fact that I do not see myself as white. Growing up, trust me, it was made abundantly clear in my small town that I was other.

So when a young black man is shot and killed, without provocation, by a black police officer working for a predominantly black county, whose fault is it?

White people, according to Coates.

And when a white woman pushes Coates' son because she is in a hurry, why did she do it? Is it because she is a jerk and would likely push any child out of the way?

Nope, it's because she's white and she has to express her white privilege.

Dude, look, I've been in New York City, and I would likely be perceived as white, and I have been pushed out of the way numerous times by people all shades of the rainbow. I don't attribute it to racism. I attribute it to people being jackasses.

Coates really strikes me as being the type who will look for racism in anything and find it just to prove his point.

And he strikes me as a racist himself.

“When people who are not black are interested in what I do, frankly, I’m always surprised,” Coates said. “I don’t know if it’s my low expectations for white people or what.” (interview with New York Magazine, July 12, 2015)

Does that sound racist to you?

How about if this was said instead: "When people who are not white are interested in what I do, frankly, I'm always surprised," [white author] said. "I don't know if it's my low expectation for black people or what."

Does THAT sound racist to you?

Your answer should be the same to both questions. If it's not, check yourself.

He also seems to believe that the lives of white children resemble those idyllic ones portrayed on sitcoms, filled with toys and love and carefree living. His life, of course, was different because he was black. It wasn't because of class - it was because of race. Now, I know that class and race can be intertwined, but let me tell you, having grown up in Appalachia, that isn't necessarily so. He might think me "white," but my childhood was a lot of being hungry and poor and wondering how cold it would get that night because our heat was turned off again and pissing in a bucket at night because it was too damned far to walk to the outhouse in the dark.

This is probably the most disappointing book I've read all year.
24 reviews20 followers
June 26, 2015
Holy shit this book. I broke down into tears on the subway upon finishing the last page. As a very privileged white woman I don't feel like I have much right to talk about this book but I hope when it comes out everyone else talks about it because it is beautiful and devastating and has the potential to be so important.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,860 followers
August 4, 2021
I write this review with very conflicted feelings. I started to say that I acknowledge this book was not written for me, it was written as a letter from a father to a son. From one man to another, almost-man. From a Black American to another. But then I realized that of course, it is for me, because it is out there, in the world, in libraries, bookstores, written by a journalist-writer-poet who has just received a MacArthur "Genius" grant, who is interviewed, speaks out, a voice that wants to be heard, read, discussed. And then I realize that of all the people who should read Between the World and Me, it is those who think this book isn't for them; i.e. white people.

So, Between the World and Me belongs to all of us now, regardless of gender, race, family status. It arrives at a delicate, urgent, complicated time when race is again part of our national conversation, somehow having fallen away over the years until it became clear that the only people who stopped talking about race were those who'd be happier pretending it just doesn't matter. But then the voices of Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, of Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson come along, fresh, ringing loudly, or we start to notice the voices that have long been there, like Claudia Rankine and Yusef Komunyakaa, and we are captivated.

After reading James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, Coates was inspired to write a similar "open letter" to his son, a conversation about the expression of racism in American, from the 17th century slave trade to the 21st century killings of unarmed Black men that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.

To me it seemed that Between the World and Me is Part One of that conversation, a rhetorical litany of circumstances without a prescriptive mission. In his work with The Atlantic magazine, Coates has written so definitively about reparations for slavery, about mass incarceration, redlining, structural racism, the myth of colorblindness and "post-racial" America, that my expectations of Between the World and Me fell along similar lines. Unfairly, perhaps. But I often felt almost mired in the beauty of Coates's prose that I lost the urgency of his message.
It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in the moments we lose. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the second kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.

But perhaps setting aside my expectations and once again, learning (over and over I have to be reminded of this) that what I must do is listen, rather than searching for the answers, the fix, is the point. It's not up to Coates, or any other voice of color, to find answers, to change things. That's between the world and me.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews605 followers
October 21, 2015
A Letter To A Teenage Son

A Letter To Me

A Letter To You

"Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains---whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains".

"To be black and beautiful was not a matter for gloating. Being black did not immunize us
from history's logic or the lure of the Dream. The writer, and that was what I was becoming,
must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own".

"The fact of history is that black people have not ---probably no people have ever---
liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts. And every great change in the lives of African-Americans we see the hand of events that were beyond our individual control, events that were not unalloyed goods. You cannot disconnect our emancipation in Northern
colonies from the blood spilled in the Revolutionary War, anymore and you can disconnect our
emancipation from slavery in the South from the channel houses of the Civil War, anymore than you can disconnect our emancipation from Jim Crow from the genocides of the Second World
War. History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life. I am ashamed of how I acted that day, ashamed of endangering your body. But I am not ashamed because I am a bad father, a bad individual or ill mannered. I am ashamed that I made an error, knowing that
our errors always cost us more".

"Had I informed this woman that when she pushed my son, she was acting according to tradition that held black bodies as lesser, her response would likely have been, "I am not a
racist." Or maybe not. But my experience in this world has been that people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personnel exoneration. And the word
racist, to them, conjures, if not a tobacco-spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic---
an orc, troll, or gorgon".

Coates takes us on a journey in Baltimore, with the Black Mecca of Howard University, New York, and Paris...
He tells his son..."struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not
struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not
pin your struggle on their conversation. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves,
to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is a deathbed of us all". The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the
same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos".




Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
June 11, 2020
I read this book first in October, and now read it again with my Language and Literacy grad class. We had a pretty lively discussion about this book and three articles I provide links to below with respect Coates' views on reparations for Arican Americans.

This is a short book by Coates, who was in 2015 awarded one of the MacArthur "genius" grants, AND the National Book Award for Non-Fiction for this book. I recommend your checking it out. It comes in the form of a letter to his teenaged son, and it's essentially a short memoir. While books as letters are a recognized form, this one seems inspired by James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew, The Fire Next Time. Both are passionate and painful to read at times.

I am a middle aged white guy, 63, which places me as someone who was in school in the sixties, and one of those liberals who was transformed by the Civil Rights movement--the riots, watching Black Power emerge (hey, I even went to SDS meetings in Ann Arbor in 1968, and attended a gathering of SDS and Black Panthers in those years, too)--as well as the Women's movement, the rise of environmentalism, and one heck of a lot of great music. I was the kind of kid who read Mao's Little Red Book when I was 16 and was preparing for The Revolution, even as I saw MLK, Bobby and JFK shot down. I grew my hair for a time in some kind of white man's version of an Afro.

I was an English major, a reader, so I read Ellison's Invisible Man, MLK, Malcolm, and all the essential James Baldwin. And Toni Morrison's Nobel prize perspective on race in literature. In recent years I have seen the left divided into camps, and have despaired of claims that any one thing is the reason the US of A is going to hell, which is a perspective trumpeted by Marxists, Feminists, GlBT activists, and a group that identifies itself with Critical Race Theory (CRT) that sees race as the the single most important defining issue in the U.S. today. I do think this country and world is going to hell, but I think it is a range of interconnected issues. Some folks call that intersectionality. Or just not subscribing to the single bullet theory. Though maybe I think at the moment that Class more than anything trumps most things, which means Coates thinks I am a typical white liberal. A Bernie kinda guy. Guilty as charged. Ayn Rand as the new-liberal icon.

I think I slowed down reading much theory about race a few years ago, not sure I hadn't heard it all before. Of course the killing of young black people by police has outraged me and I have been part of protests and petitions. And I live in Chicago, where young black kids are killed on a daily and alarming basis. There's an economic explanation, and a racial one, and in Chicago these are entertwined, in my opinion.

But when Toni Morrison says Coates is the best black intellectual since James Baldwin, says it is "required reading," well, I listen, and read. I also had read some of his writing for The Atlantic Monthly, so I knew who he was. It's true, the perspective in general is one which I am generally familiar with, but what makes this a real contribution is the quality of the writing: passionate, fresh, engaged, loving, angry, and (somewhat) redemptive. His concern is with the centuries old destruction of black bodies that didn't just end in slavery. His starting point is the alarming cop killings and innocent verdicts, but along the way he tells his story to his son, and it is a tale of Malcolm X, Howard University, and the senseless murder of one Howard (The Mecca) University friend in particular, Prince Jones, who was remarkable and brilliant and good, who was the only black kid attending a Texas prep school, and whose mother is a successful radiologist. A black child of privilege, in many ways, whose family is cut down by one act of racism. Money didn’t protect his black skin.

Coates visits Dr. Jones in his last chapter, who talks calmly but clearly of her dead son and the country she did everything right to succeed in, but whom, in spite of everything, became (merely) black, cast aside in some ways by the very Dream "of those who believe themselves to be white." It's a pretty powerful book, a provocative perspective, and often as saddening as it is enraging. The best thing about it for me as a reader and writer is that there are sentences on every page that could only have been written by him, that astonish with grace and power. How can we be surprised by any writer in a book about race in 2015? But it does, and you will be, and I was. I highly recommend you check it out.

And here's a link to his Reparations essay:


And after hearing some criticism about the essay, his response:


And a smart critique of Coates' position on reparations from Cedric Johnson:

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