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Between the World and Me

The 2015 National Book Award Winner is a deep look at being black in America today

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
13-minute read
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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.

  • Anyone interested in race and racism in the United States
  • Anyone interested in social issues
  • Anyone interested in US history

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir that explores Coates’s relationship with his father Paul Coates. In 2014, he won the George Polk Award in Journalism and, in 2015, he won the MacArthur Genius Grant.

 

Image Ta-Nehisi Coates: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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Between the World and Me

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Synopsis

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.

Key idea 1 of 8

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a black man born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland.

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.

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