Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars
You should read this book. Yes you. If you think #blacklivesmatter, it will settle in your psyche what it’s like to grow up Black in the United States. If you think #alllivesmatter, it is required reading for you to understand how uniquely put upon Blacks in the U.S. have been, are, and will continue to be as long as you remain so short-sighted to their struggle. If you don’t know what all the commotion is about or are of the opinion that Blacks just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you owe it to yourself and our country to get educated on the subject and “Between the World and Me” is one of the best primers around.
I have now read “Between the World and Me” twice and it hits just as hard with the second reading as it did with the first. Ta-Nehisi Coates is quickly becoming the voice of our generation. He is the conscience of the U.S.; that nagging thought in the back of our minds that things aren’t right and need to be fixed; that thought that gets louder and louder until you can ignore it no longer. No modern day writer can so effortlessly spring to life with the written word the state of race relations as he.
Coates’ story is told as a letter to his son. It is an interesting vehicle. Coates is speaking to you as though you are his son. He is asking you to be a black teenager and to try to see the world that Coates sees through the lens of your experiences so far as his son. As someone who has seen racism first hand and knows as least something of the Black Experience and is sympathetic to it, I found it very effective. I am not sure that others who are outside the Experience will have the empathy to relate. Books like this make me wish there were reality TV shows about book clubs where people of varying backgrounds get together to discuss the topics brought up in the book. Man, this is total NPR bait. Why has this not happened yet? But I digress.
“Between the World and Me” is part biography, part history, part evolutionary, and all devastating. Coates brings a clarity to race relations that most writers can’t manage. For example, the Dream. The Dream is the ugly and all too real underbelly of the axiomatic American Dream. Work hard, do right, be successful. America, can do no wrong. The flaw is in you if you don’t make it. Ignore the past. Put blinders on to the present. The future is bright for everyone.
The most devastating of Coates’ stories is his retelling of the murder of Prince Jones, an acquaintance of Coates’ during his time at Howard University, at the hands of a police officer. Prince’s family was THE success story. His parents had “made it”. They were able to provide safety and comfort. But the success story of Black America can still be snatched away by the Dream. Prince’s success story ended at the hands of a Prince George County police officer who followed a black man (that didn’t nearly match the description of the person he was looking for) through three states and gunned Prince Jones down steps away from the house of his fiancee. The shooting was ruled justified. Everyone quickly forgot. It is as familiar a story as it is heartbreaking.
I am as pessimistic as Coates that things will get better. That we, as a country, will someday remove our blinders. That we, as a country, will someday see the ugliness of our past and learn from it. But I have to say, despite the pessimism, despite the sadness, despite the rote stories of blacks being gunned down, “Between the World and Me” still brings me hope. The stories are getting out there and seeping into our subconscious. Coates has a vision and a new mandate in the form of a MacArthur Genius Grant to continue fueling the struggle with his gift of words. I look forward with relish to his works yet to come.