Between the World and Me is written in the form of a letter to the teenage son of the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the book Coates tries to help his son understand the racism they are subjected to every day as African Americans. Coates writes:
“Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism--the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.
But race is the child of racism, not the father…Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.
These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power.”
From Between the World and Me, page 7.
Throughout the book, Coates mentions numerous poets, other authors, and musicians who have influenced him. Clearly, the written word and music have had a powerful impact on his life.
The title of the book is actually taken from the Richard Wright poem "Between the World and Me," and each section is prefaced with a quote from a poem, and in one case an essay. Below find links for the complete poems and the essay.
The Book's Title
The Book's Structure
Coates has been called the heir to James Baldwin by author Toni Morrison. The letter style Coates uses in Between the World and Me was inspired by that used in Baldwin's highly influential 1963 book on African-American identity, The Fire Next Time.
||The Fire Next Time
Check holdings and availability at CCAC
Sonia Sanchez's poem "Malcolm" prefaces this section. In the book, Coates discusses how and why Malcolm X has influenced him.
Hear Sanchez comment on and read her poem here.
Or read it yourself here.
This section of the book is prefaced with an excerpt from Amiri Baraka's poem "Ka'Ba."
Read the poem here (scroll down the page to find it).
An excerpt from James Baldwin's essay "On Being White...And Other Lies" prefaces this section.
You can read it here.