Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an unapologetic, eloquently powerful window into the black American experience. I’ve had the privilege of hearing Coates at two different forums held at Johns Hopkins University in the past year. Coates very much writes in the voice with which he thinks and speaks, and I am inspired by his consistent and grounded understanding of himself. Written in the form of a memoir letter to his son Samori, Coates develops particular language and imagery, based on the foundation laid by Baldwin and others before him, that weaves and layers into a deep, nuanced tapestry of the black experience. The Mecca, Prince Jones, the Dream, plundering black bodies, and those who believe themselves to be white take on all the rich meaning of the profound thoughts and stories shared throughout the book. (Check out my favorite quotes here on Twitter!) I have yet to read Baldwin or Coates’ previous works (which are now on my list), and I trust that having this background will make Coates’ work all the richer. Indeed, Coates brilliantly links the racism at the founding of our country to our present racism, along with everything in between. I suspect that for many black readers, Coates puts words and stories to what they already know to be true. As a white male reader who grew up on the opposite side of Baltimore from Coates, I am the other about which he writes, and I am privileged to be given his brutally honest perspective. While I know that I am still only scratching the surface, Coates has opened my eyes in a new way and fundamentally changed the way that I understand the experience and perspective of my black neighbors, the reality of systemic racism in America, and the participation and contribution of myself and other white Americans to that system. Though it’s not my place to say, Coates must certainly earn himself a spot as one of the defining black voices of our generation through this book. For these reasons, I highly recommend this book to any American seeking language and a framework of thought around our current race issues. Thank you for boldly sharing yourself with us in this way, Ta-Nehisi!
One of my great sadnesses for Coates is his view of Christianity as an opiate of the masses, a religion inseparable from the injustice which he describes. Yet I know that Jesus weeps along with him. And what a great Jesus-follower Coates would be! Jesus would provide some of the hope and peace and answers for which Coates longs, and give an even richer fullness to Coates’ wisdom. I pray that along the way, Coates encounters Jesus in the faces of followers who have ears to hear and eyes to see, humility and integrity, love and a desire to heal. For my part, I hope to be such a person to those around me, especially my black neighbors.