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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
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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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 Black men face 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 fiancée’s house in Virginia, Jones was followed across state lines by a DC police officer – the same officer who would go on to shoot Jones dead outside his fiancée’s house. 

The police officer, 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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