Between the World and Me (2015) is an open letter to the author’s 15-year-old son about the realities that face black men in America. Filled with personal anecdotes about the author’s personal development and experiences with racism, his letter tries to prepare young black people for the world that awaits them.
Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates was born on September 30, 1975 in Baltimore, Maryland. Throughout his life Coates has lived with the typical fears that black people have in the United States. But a couple experiences stand out as being the most formative.
The first occurred in 1986, when Coates was standing outside a market after school. Across the street, an unknown boy called him over. He said nothing to Coates; he simply pulled out a gun from his ski jacket, brandished it, and then put it back.
This fleeting moment solidified the notion that, because he was black, he was constantly subject to the threat of spontaneous and unexpected violence directed at him.
The second experience involved an acquaintance, Prince Jones, whom he met at Howard University, an HBCU, short for historically black colleges and universities.
Jones’s mother came from poverty, but she worked hard and “made it” in America. No expense was spared when it came to her son, who was a father and engaged to be married. By all accounts, Jones’s future was destined to be a happy, middle-class life.
However, one night, while driving to his fiance’s house in Virginia, Jones was followed across state lines by a D.C. cop – the same cop who would go on to gun Jones down outside his fiance’s house.
The cop, a known liar, claimed Jones was trying to run him over, and simply returned to work after being absolved of any wrongdoing.
Coates understood then that even taking the middle road – keeping your head down and working hard to succeed – wasn’t enough to guarantee your safety, peace or happiness as a black American.
These events weighed heavily on Coates, and the birth of his son gave him newfound cause to tackle these problems. As a writer, he reflects upon the fears he has for himself, the black community and, above all, his son.