Aj Sterkel's Reviews > Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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's review
Jan 03, 2017

did not like it
bookshelves: nonfiction

Unpopular opinion alert. Between the World and Me is everywhere in my bookish universe. It’s won a bunch of awards. All my friends are reading it and raving about it. The number of positive reviews it has on Goodreads is crazy. I had high expectations . . .

. . . And I don’t get it. To me, this book reads like a lot of anger and not much else. Maybe I overhyped it in my head? I expected it to add something new to the discussion of racism in the US, but I don’t think it did.

Between the World and Me is a letter/essay that the author wrote to his fifteen-year-old son. He talks about what it was like growing up as a black man in Baltimore. He talks about the history of racism in America and how racism shapes the lives of Americans today. He also discusses police brutality, gun violence, the failures of the American education system, and the number of young black men in prison.

“But all 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. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” – Between the World and Me

This book is passionately written. It’s obvious that the author is highly educated and has survived a lot of crap that no human should have to live through. He’s angry, and he has a right to be angry, but the anger made this book difficult for me to read.

I once heard a businessman say “Don’t come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions.” Ta-Nehisi Coates does a brilliant job of showing the problems with American society, but he doesn’t offer any solutions. While I was reading, I just felt like the author was screaming at me for 150 pages, while I sat there going, “I hear what you’re saying, but what do we do about it?” Maybe I’m just a stupid white “dreamer” girl, but I’m hopeful that America’s racism problems can be solved.

What can we do to bridge the divide between the races in America? How should we change our school system so that black teens are less likely to drop out? What needs to happen to stop police brutality and gun violence? I was hoping that this book would offer some possible solutions to those problems. Instead, it read like an online rant to me. There is a lot of anger, but it’s not directed at fixing anything.

Maybe fixing the problems isn’t the point of the book? Maybe the point is to “wake up” the white people and show them how scary it is to be a black man in America. But, what happens when the white people “wake up”? Is that when we start solving problems? What if they never wake up? Do the problems not get solved? I guess I struggled with the complete hopelessness of Between the World and Me.

I also was annoyed that the author paints groups of people with a broad brush. For example, he lumps cops and firefighters into the “evil” category, but he doesn’t explain why firefighters belong there. How do firefighters fit into a discussion of police brutality? As far as I know, a firefighter has never murdered an unarmed black man.

It’s helpful to see America’s problems from the point-of-view of someone who lives with them every day. However, the hopelessness and lack of possible solutions frustrated me. This book is a rehashing of the same problems we see on the news every night. I was hoping for some new insights.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 3, 2017 – Shelved
January 3, 2017 – Shelved as: nonfiction
January 3, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Leah Rachel I do think that the point is anger. I would add that it's based on another work, in a similar style—letter from father to son—that's also focused around anger. The idea is a look back rather than a look forward, and to raise questions around the concept of the American dream and American history, and less so to solve these problems. It isn't Coates's goal or his job to write to tell us how to Fix It—he focuses on where the problems lie. It's a lot about becoming conscious (woke). This wasn't addressed to white people: it was addressed to his son, describing and mourning the trouble and prejudice of the world he is about to enter.

message 2: by Aj (new) - rated it 1 star

Aj Sterkel @Leah Thanks for the links. Those are helpful. I’ve been thinking about this book a lot lately, and I guess I’m just struggling with the anger and hopelessness of it. I also realize that I’m not the target audience, so that might be part of the problem. When I finished the book, my instinct was to say to Coates’s son, “The past sucked, and the present isn’t great either, but we can do something to make it better.” I just have no idea what that “something” is.

Leah Rachel @Aj I'm glad—they helped inform me about Coates's plans for the book as well. I think it's ok to acknowledge that you didn't enjoy reading an overwhelmingly sort of depressing read, especially considering the goal is to dismantle the idea of the American dream. I think that one place in which there's optimism is that while Coates's telling of the history is obviously upsetting, there has been growth for his son. I think the idea is that the book will wake up a lot of people rather than give solutions, but waking people up is in a lot of ways a solution in of itself.

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