I have never read a book as raw and as real as Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. While it is only 152 pages in length, it took me over a month to complete the book from cover to cover. I had to put the book down several times to process the intensity of the author’s words and his brutal honesty concerning the world he experiences as a Black man living in the United States.
Coates writes his book as a letter to his son, in response to the recent and not-so-recent abuse laid upon Black bodies by an unaccountable White majority. Slavery. Police brutality. A challenge to systemic racism and the psychological nuisance it fosters. You guessed it, this book has and will continue to spark controversy. Coates provides numerous examples of the affliction that plagues the Black consciousness and Black body. He invites you into his living room in the middle of a family discussion. It’s the kind of discussion that makes you feel as if you are intruding if you stay for too long, but a discussion you can’t gracefully escape. It draws me to remember the conversations I have with my own father concerning the stress and fear laid on us as men of color. Because of its contemporary authorship, Coates becomes real and concrete. As I read, I feel that he is my high school or college friend whom I’ve come home to meet after all these years. We talk. We share. And we find that worlds have never been too far apart.
Who should read this book? Any seminarian, of any ethnicity, who intends to do ministry in 21st century America. Any professor teaching the pastors and theologians of tomorrow. And any international student who wants to gain contextual understanding of the pressures laid upon the Black minority in the United States. In short, as Toni Morrison says it, “This is required.”
Be warned. Coates does not profess to believe in God. And so, he does not intend to present a Christian hope in any of these pages. To say this book is grim is an understatement. Coates is dark and poetic. This book will eclipse you and make you feel most uncomfortable. You may weep. You may throw this book across the room. You may become angry with understanding or disbelief. But, whether or not you resonate with Coates doesn’t matter. You cannot ignore the presentation of this Black experience without returning to willful ignorance. a
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is also the author of The Beautiful Struggle.