Between The World And Me

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a beautifully written book.  I’d like to include all of the quotes I pulled for my common place book in this post but it ends up being about half of the book, so I’ve settled for a few of my favorites.  Despite the impressive writing and interesting points put forth, when I finished the book I was left sussing out feelings of dissatisfaction.  This was my first exposure to Ta-Nehisi Coates and from what I understand he has a very popular blog or column with The Atlantic that I’m sure I’ll be taking a gander at soon. However, since I hadn’t heard any of his ideas before and his style was new to me, I had to give myself some time to geek out about the quality and beauty of his writing.  My first impression of Between The World And Me was that it’s an important book that needs to be read and despite the more critical thoughts that seeped in after the excitement, I still think that’s true.


This book is set up as a letter from Coates to his son in which he uses his own life and varied experiences to help his son understand what it means to be black in a country that has repeatedly, and continually, exploited and abused those who are.  Coates not only writes about his life in a chronological manner, but also his understanding of what it means to be black.  As readers we get to see the evolution of his thought process from being a child in Baltimore, to, as he says, “The Mecca” that is Howard University, up to adulthood and searching to understand the story of others instead of just looking inwardly at his own.

I’m not sure that he comes to a conclusion about where the black body fits into a society that seeks to use and abuse it, which is why I finished the book slightly dissatisfied.  This book feels like the beginning of a sentence that doesn’t have a verb yet.  He tells us (or, his son, rather) this is what’s happening, this is why it’s happening, good luck and don’t expect too much, you’ll only be disappointed.  Which may very well be true. Maybe there’s no hope and white people will forever choose to stay in their dream that exists solely on the breaking backs of black people.  Or maybe the fact that this is addressed to his son, who has already lived a radically different and more privileged life than Ta-Nehisi, is the hope.

When talking about his time in Paris Coates says, “And watching him walk away, I felt that I had missed part of the experience because of my eyes, because my eyes were made in Baltimore, because my eyes were blinded in fear.”  I’m not naive enough, or I suppose as Coates may say, entrenched in the delusion of “The Dream” enough, to suppose that Coates’s is the last generation to have fear negatively affect their life even in safe situations.  All you have to do is turn on the news to know that if you’re black the fear exists because the threat is real and powerful.  I do believe that Coates and his son are examples of that fear dropping away just a little bit with each generation.  Not quickly enough, and not enough to be satisfied and complacent, but enough to hope.  This coming from a privileged white girl doesn’t mean too much, I suppose. Though listening to older generations grapple with conversations of race and violence makes me believe that for our part, each generation is dropping The Dream little by little, and maybe all is not lost.

Common Place Book Entries

“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as hierarchy.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Why-for us and only us-is the other side of free will and free spirits an assault upon our bodies? This is not a hyperbolic concern.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“I felt myself at the bridge of a great ship that I could not control because C.L.R. James was a great wave and Basil Davidson was a swirling eddy, tossing me about. Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smacked to splinters by another.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“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.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“I remember being amazed that death could so easily rise up from the nothing of a boyish afternoon, billow up like fog.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“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 moments. It is the last bottle of wine that you do not have time to drink. It is the 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.”

-Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates






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