The Problem with ‘Between the World and Me’

A lot of people love Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me. I mean, they REALLY love it, and you don’t have to go any farther than the book jacket to see evidence of this. “The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, [sic] and beautifully redemptive,” Toni Morrison writes while proclaiming that Coates has filled the void left by James Baldwin’s death. Toni Fucking Morrison! James Motherfucking Baldwin!

This is an important book. Coates talks about growing up in Baltimore knowing his body was in jeopardy everyday, that his struggle in life was to keep his body from harm. “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease” (p. 17.) It’s a very compelling 152 pages and enlightening in his struggles with life as a black man.

Between the World and Me is a letter to his 15-year old son telling him that as a black boy, “you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know (p.71.)” But that is part of the problem: a premise that is very personal being written in a very impersonal way.

Reading this feels like reading a longer think-piece in the Atlantic, New Yorker or New York Times, one that straddles the divide of being purely academic and being made for public consumption which is about as impersonal and antiseptic as you can get. Since reading does bring out all of my shortcomings, they are once again exposed in my utter hatred for long think-pieces. Usually I end up reading two paragraphs of these pieces and start screaming, “Where is the fucking editor?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” before throwing a tantrum and moving on with my life.

I suppose it is a talent to take something that should be very personal and have it come off as impersonal as possible. Knowing how vital this book is especially now as we’re being awoken to the still omnipresent racism that exists in American society, I just wanted it to be written better.

Don’t worry. I already know I’m a terrible person, and by not completely loving Between the World and Me proves I am a completely reprehensible creature.