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Book Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

While many authors, philanthropists, and authorities have provided detailed analyses of how and why racial division occurs, Ta-Nehisi Coates expresses his views through Between the World and Me, a letter to his 15 year-old-son Samori. He expresses that racism is an issue created by society and is still practiced today, no matter how inadvertent the act of doing it may be.

Coates begins his letter with anecdotes from his childhood recounting numerous instances in which he reflects on his own circumstances in comparison to white people. He explains the racial division he experienced and from these moments of self awareness he comes to many conclusions about how society wants him to act and how he needs to act in order to survive. He explains to Samori, and indirectly to his audience, his experience with dealing with parts of history like police brutality, both from a bystander’s standpoint and from a personal perspective. Fear is a common theme throughout the text, that black people on the streets covered their fear with loud music and street talk and white people would use fear as a reason to react.

As Coates shares his memories of facing racial injustice his personality and the personalities of others in his book are revealed to the audience. When Samori reacts to the court verdict of a case involving the death of Michael Brown, Coates is able paint the audience a picture of how his son is impacted by discrimination. The final pages of the book focus on the death of Prince Jones, the impact it had on Coates as well as others around him. Jones was a friend of his that falls victim to police brutality, resulting in Jones’ death. Coates’ personality is revealed as he writes, “The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream… is a deathbed for us all (151)”. From this passage Coates reveals his deep understanding of the root of racism, that it goes beyond black vs white to the core of societal values.

Throughout the biography, as Coates illustrates his early childhood all the way to his present life, he follows a theme of metaphorically referring to life as a body. The metaphor is used numerous times, “… how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life… (12)” By using this writing technique it allows the reader to understand the concept of a soul as a tangible object, something that can be taken away. Therefore, Coates is able to touch on personal and sometimes disturbing topics that his audience can understand as a tangible loss rather than just a feeling someone else experienced.

As many people before Coates have come to realize, racism still exists and to address the issue will take time. But Coates reaches his audience through his personification of life by referring to it as a body, he draws attention to his indirect call to action for social reform.

by Ellora Bultema

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