Black lives do matter because black lives are human lives. All humans are simply that: human. No matter the color of their skin, their sexual preference, or the amount of money they make in a year, we are all human. In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates says just this and so much more in a 152-page letter to his fifteen-year-old son.
He starts out the book by acknowledging the commonly held belief that “race [is] a defined, indubitable, feature of the natural world,” but he quickly denounces this as myth and probes at a newer (perhaps for some more radical) idea. The idea that “race is the child of racism” and only out of racism and the defining of what physical features are desirable, what actions are ascribed as typical to a particular sub set of people, do we come out with the idea of race.
In the book, Coates points out that it was once easy to pick out a racist, and to some extent, overt racism is still around and easy to identify. The KKK has not disappeared and lynching still happens, yes. Coates, though, challenges that subtler racism is where the bigger, more widespread problem is. Ideas of what a person is capable of based on appearance, value judgments based on a person’s physical features, fear, aggression, and violence toward a person because of the color of their skin: that’s the racism of today that endangers the rights of so many human beings who don’t look like the majority.
Coates goes on to address the years of oppression, segregation, and racism that the black community has experienced since the rape of Africa happened. The idea that America, Egypt, and all “great” countries were founded on the backs of slaves, is not something that should be so easily cast aside, forgiven, and forgotten. Perhaps most importantly so because the racism built into the culture of the United States has not by any means been eradicated since slavery was abolished. Coates has no qualms in proclaiming the strides that have been made in regards to civil rights, but he also has no issue saying we have a lot further to go before we reach equality.
Between the World and Me is filled with a sense of hopelessness that is pervasive throughout its pages. Nowhere does Coates offer a solution, remedy, or even hopeful message as to what the future could hold. While it is easy to see the pain and despair that has seeded American culture in regards to issues of racism, Coates leaves readers wondering: what can I do? How do we make reparations for the damage done? Will things ever change? Perhaps Coates doesn’t know? Perhaps Coates doesn’t have the answer? Perhaps the answer is simply his book: an opening up of conversation. Perhaps right now, all that can be done is to talk about it, to make more people aware of the issues still present in the world that they don’t experience, that they don’t live with, but that are that much more important because of the clandestine and nonchalant air around them.
An emotionally charged and moving epistle, Between the World and Me gets at many of the issues ingrained in the deep set racism of American culture, and that the public has been privy to lately in the news. Though Between You and Me can often feel like a rant, why shouldn’t it? Why shouldn’t people whose lives are shown not to matter to the greater community speak out, be angry, make at least a verbal attempt to show that they do matter, that they too are human?
Between the World and Me was published by Spiegel & Grau in 2015 and has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, ALA Alex Award, PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction.
Between the World and Me is available for purchase at your local bookstore.
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