Severe, conscious stirring, and wildly aware, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me reads as Coates is speaking with his son. The work embodies elements which had forced their way into his own development, spanning themes as racism, American history, seeking belonging, police brutality, and the attempt to understand all of these elements as they interplay. The answer is never easy- found. Between the World and Me is a powerful work whose intensity will leave some readers feeling a tense burden and will leave other readers with a dismal sympathy.
I coupled reading Between the World and Me with a viewing of the movie “Get Out”, the combination was made expressly clear to me as Coates referred to to black bodies. The use of bodies permeates the book and is used as a way of personifying blackness and black people. It was only a page in the novel that I realized the power the remaining text would hold. I read, “The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant ‘government of the people’ but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term ‘people’ to actually mean.” In the quote was Coates refined power of voice and a even finer power of consciousness into race.
A white friend of mine, who I also went to see “Get Out” with, was also reading the book. During both the movie and later through texts about the reading I learned of how uncomfortable it made her. Coates’s text was intense for her and I’m certain that parts of it had sparked guilt or otherwise disgust in the action of “people who think themselves white”. It was in those reactions I realized Coates was on to something and highlighting the problem in such a way that it cuts so deep as to make people feel uncomfortable. He was moving with the power of his words in ways I never thought possible.
In the presence of greater writers a reader has to stop reading and take stock of exactly what made the writing great. I knew the moment I started that I was in the presence of a writer of extraordinary prowess, not of someone who writes just to communicate ideas but who has been surrounded by great language his entire life. I first felt de-legitimized, then inspired, know that one day I could use words like Coates. Another living black writer who could move the world with a pen. It was an extraordinary experience.
“… how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”
“But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government- backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justices has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”
“The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life — love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the fire-hoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets. They seemed to love the men who raped them, the women who cursed them, love the children who spat on them, the terrorists that bombed them. Why are they showing this to us? why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality.”
“I almost never danced, as much as I wanted to. I was crippled by some childhood fear of my own body. But I would watch how black people moved, how in these clubs they danced as through their bodies could do anything, and their bodies seemed as free as Malcolm’s voice. [In the next paragraph] All I then wanted was to write as those black people danced, with control, power, joy, warmth”