The Inkwell is a series of book reviews, or just rambling thoughts on specific books. For more, amble here.
Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
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?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
― Ta-Nehisi Coates,
I want to quote every single line in Coates’s book. I can’t say anything as well as he does.
Coates write this book as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son—and that audience is absolutely vital to the power of his words. This book was not written for the “general” “public.” This book was not written for me, a non-Black person. And so it is unfiltered, direct, and honest. It is full of the ache of conscious citizens of the world.
Between the World and Me weaves together history, politics, and memoir into an anvil of an essay. Coates spins such gorgeous prose about such horrifying violence that every word feels like a gut punch. A gasp. An alarm. A wake up call.
I cannot understate the importance of this book to our time. Pertinent is an understatement. Eloquent is an understatement. Necessary is an understatement. It will inevitably become a classic.