Saturday, February 6, 2016

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates paints an unsettling portrait of what it’s like to be a black man in America today

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American journalist who writes about African-American issues. Between the World and Me is a 150 page work of epistolary non-fiction, written to his 14-year-old son, Samori. It mixes autobiography, history and cultural theory, with its main themes being institutionalised violence against the black body and a powerful critique of American democracy and free market economics.  He derisively calls such notions of American democracy and  economic freedom ‘the Dream’. And while officially the law might say that African-Americans have been emancipated, the reality is that the weight of history - slavery, racism, violence - still bears down, its influence felt today. Black men are still murdered in the street and the law seems unable to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Coates has an eloquence when describing how racism, violence, capitalism worked together to create a mythical paradise:

“The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden.”

There is much to take away from this insightful essay, especially for non-American readers who want to know what the African-American experience is like. Coates very much imbues his writing with great sensitivity, with an almost bruised feeling, painting a melancholy portrait of what it’s like to be an outsider in your own country. The only negative is that the language is quite florid, which can hamper accessibility to the author’s ideas. There were passages where I wondered if I really understood what he was saying. The words can create a bit of a fog at times.

That criticism aside, Between the World and Me provides a valuable, if deeply unsettling portrait of what it’s like to be a black man in America today.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Published by Text. ISBN: 9781925240702 RRP: $27.99

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