Thoughts on "Between the World and Me"


I am not calling this a book review of Between the World and Me, per say, because I feel it’s important to acknowledge that I am a white Canadian female and this book was written by a black American male, to his black American son. I will be unable to understand the breadth of the experience shared in the book, and I will not be entering into a political commentary. My thoughts will be on the writing, the style, the impact I felt from reading the that we’re clear :)

I read this book as part of my 2018 Reading Challenge and I included it in the challenge because a number of friends had recommended it over a couple of years. Plus, it's extremely timely given the conversations being had in the USA especially over the last few years, but conversations that are being echoed here in Canada as well.

In short, it was time.

And I would like to start by saying this: Read this book.

But a great number of educators spoke of “personal responsibility” in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream." - page 33

Shivers, right?

It’s short, it’s not a tough read (grammatically - it can be quite tough emotionally), and it’s extremely clear/accessible. If you want to gain an understanding of the marginalization of black people in the USA in some way, shape, or form, you would not be remiss to start here.

It occurred to me that I really was in someone else’s country {France} and yet, in some necessary way, I was outside of their country. In America I was part of an equation - even if it wasn’t a part I relished...I was not just a father but the father of a black boy. I was not just a spouse but the husband of a black woman, a freighted symbol of black love. But sitting in that garden, for the first time I was an alien, I was a sailor - landless and disconnected. And I was sorry that I had never felt this particular loneliness before - that I had never felt myself so far outside of someone else’s dream. Now I felt the deeper weight of my generational chains - my body confined, by history and policy, to certain zones. Some of us make it out. But the game is played with loaded dice. I wish I had known more, and I wished I had known it sooner. - page 124


Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist, by trade, and so his writing flows effortlessly. He spares no detail but also leaves you to connect a few dots here and there. He’s not bonking you over the head with every bit of information - not that he would have to. The data and information contained herein is stark and laid bare anyways.

Just watch where he uses commas and hyphens to create emphasis and separation. It’s beautiful writing.

A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out. - page 28

But don’t let me confuse you into thinking this is solely a political commentary; this is a highly personal story, a visceral explanation of a man to his son about how to navigate the world to which he has been born.

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 the police, from their flashlights, their hands, their nighsticks, their guns. - page 90

This book has left a huge impact on me and really filled out the pieces of the picture I didn't see or couldn't grasp or maybe didn't want to.

I think you should read this book, and if you do (or did), I would love to know if you felt the impact or what you thought about it as a piece of writing.

Also, be sure to let me know if you're in on the challenge!