Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” Leaves You Introspective And On The Verge Of Tears


 Ta-Nehisi Coates

[Book Review]

Between the World and Me

Spiegel & Grau, 2015

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Toni Morrison Was Right

With his second book, Between the World and Me,  Ta-Nehisi Coates, joins that “sheer moral force” needed to bring down the walls of racism which the late Chinua Achebe associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In this passionate and honest narrative there are insights and single pages so singularly powerful as to justify  reading this book. But the cover- to-cover experience will leave the reader breathless, on the verge of tears, and deeply introspective, appreciating the courage and the poetic beauty which delivers the message.

Between the World and Me opens with a single word of power. Son. That word stands alone on a line. It is a primal connection, with all its solar reverberations. It is not, my son.  Not dear son. Not dear Samori Toure.  Just, Son. Evoking an indestructible paternal love which resonates with cosmic divinity. And before the reader reaches the midpoint of the book, the author actually says to his son, “You were the God I’d never had.” (P.67)

An equally powerful scene follows the verdict that made the mother of Michael Brown cover her face and drove Ta-Nehisi Coates’ son to his bedroom where he would close the door and do what many people did that night: weep inconsolably. After listening for five minutes, the father entered the bedroom. The father does not hug his son. The father does not attempt to smother that anguish. He is there. The father’s presence is a love so deep that even the most oblivious brute could see that Black Lives Matter.

There is a powerful maternal presence in Between the World and Me, not surprising since the author was taught to read at age four by his grandmother who also taught him to interrogate himself. On Labor Day September 7, 2015 , WBAI’s Democracy Now aired an interview and reading during which Coates chose closing pages of the final chapter bringing us a Mother and Son portrait that rivals the most ancient original, Auset and her son Horus.  The author requested and was granted an interview with Dr. Mable  Jones, mother of a son Prince who was killed by a police officer. As Dr. Jones  tells her extraordinary story, her eyes “well” but they don’t “break.” You can expect that in a book so finely written, the closing image will be of heavy water flowing. And it is.

When the author makes many references to the Dream and to the Dreamers, this is the antithesis of Dr. King’s I have a Dream.  Here the Dream separates humans from reality. That separation allows them not to see all life as life. Coates quotes James Baldwin at the beginning of Section III, “And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white.”

“But race is the child of racism, not the father,” the author says in the opening chapter which highlights the need for those who love justice to be conversant with the wisdom of our leaders. Coates who saw Malcolm X as the most honest leader, seems to stagger under the weight of treachery when the host of a news show flashes an image intended to destroy his outpouring of  grief following an onslaught of wrongful deaths.  The writing of this book will leave the author better prepared for interaction with racists who have honed their methods through  continuous collaboration for hundreds of years.

We too have collaborators, great teachers. The call to cosmic consciousness throughout this narrative echoes that of Cheikh Anta Diop. South African author Jordan Ngubane in Ushaba (the continuing provocation or the proliferation of crises) said “Race and colour are merely the vehicles for the collision at the level of fundamentals; they are not in themselves the causes of conflict. ”  In Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. King observes that  “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” And “The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice.”  King’s speech, 25 March 1965 at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March, spoke of the roots of racism. “The southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow.” “And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow.”  All these quotations avoid the corrosive language of race which suppresses truth.

Civil Rights activist and torture survivor, John Perkins, says in his memoir, Let Justice Roll Down, “But brutality is something like dope.  Some people have to have it to confirm themselves. It’s a sickness of the racist.”

When the author observed that the “moral arc of the universe was bent toward chaos” I felt some disappointment. Doesn’t the larger Truth entail both chaos and order? Why desecrate an image of hope associated with Dr. King who made the ultimate sacrifice, whose house was bombed when his wife and newborn daughter were home?”

Ta-Nehisi Coates has several New York appearances scheduled during the coming weeks. Thursday, October 22 at 6:30PM the author will speak at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. All those fortunate enough to attend will see that Toni Morrison was right.

“And Black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers–lost in their great reverie–feel it, for it is Billie Holiday they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness….”  Discover the complete quotation near the end of the book. This page alone will move you. Will either make you holler, or weep.


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