I had very mixed feelings on this book. Between the World and Me is one of those books that always appears on those “anti-racism” book lists, so I wanted to give it a read.
About the Book
Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Genre: nonfiction, memoir, politics, history
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):
“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?“
First, Between the World and Me is extremely well-written. Coates is obviously very talented in the art of, well, using words lyrically, poetically, and effectively.
The exploration of his childhood in West Baltimore was extremely compelling, and I also liked the section about him going to college and reading and developing his identity and philosophy, changing his mind on things, and struggling with the contradictions of information and worldviews.
“I did not find a coherent tradition marching lockstep but instead factions, and factions within factions. Hurston battled Hughes, Du Bois warred with Garvey, Harold Cruse fought everyone. 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 smashed to splinters by another.“
There’s also this interesting point he makes about how “white” isn’t really a real category (it isn’t) and that who “counts” as white has changed a lot over time, leading to it really being just a category label to enforce a hierarchy.
This is one of those books that’s going to give me a new perspective on things that I have no experience of, and it’s also a reminder of the self-reflection America needs to do about the things in our history that we tend to push under the rug.
“I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names.“
Now for the not-so-good parts of the book:
Coates completely lost me when he started saying that he didn’t care about the 9/11 first responders because they were just the same as racist police and he “could not consider any American citizen pure.”
“I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died. They were not human to me.“
(I’m sorry, but what the hell?)
Between the World and Me also spent a lot of time talking about how “people who believe they are white”, as he puts it, are basically the root of all evil, and racism is completely inseparable from the ideals of America, which I disagree with. I don’t think there’s something wrong with America itself or with American values. There’s a problem in the way these values have been applied– for decades, of course, they applied only to white men.
And I also don’t think everything done by white people is racist, or that white people are raised to be racist– not in the majority of modern Western society (nor do I think a white lady pushing a black child in a movie theater is automatic evidence of white supremacy as this book frames it)
Between the World and Me is very popular and highly-rated, but, as you can see, I had mixed opinions on it.
Have you read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates? If so, what did you think of it? Feel free to let me know in the comments!
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