Between the World and Me written by Ta-Nehisi Coates is presented as a letter to his 15-year-old son as his son begins to witness countless racial injustices against African Americans. Published in 2015, the conversation and lessons provided by his thought-provoking book are equally important today. The recent protests against police brutality in the United States and worldwide in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and many more have made this book an essential reading in beginning to understand the struggles faced by African Americans.
The author himself grew up in Baltimore, where he described his childhood as being exposed from a young age to dangers of violence, crime, and weapons. At the age of just 11, he had experienced having a gun pointed at him, and he grew up in an environment where even simple things we may take for granted like walking home after school could present dangers for him. He went on to study at Howard University where he continued his pursuit of knowledge through reading. Here, he met Prince Jones, an acquaintance of his who later became the victim of a police shooting while on his way to see his fiancé, an incident which led to no repercussions for the officer who committed the crime. Coates later began a career in journalism, becoming a well-known voice on the topic of race in the US. He is also the author of many books such as “We Were Eight Years in Power”.
The beginnings of this novel came after the occurrences of the murders by police of Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, John Crawford, and Tamir Rice that his son at the tender age of 15 had witnessed on the news. Coates addresses this as the almost inevitable realisation for every African American that the police, who should have the duty to protect, have been “endowed with the authority to destroy your body”. Laws and institutions in place instead have “become an excuse for stopping and frisking you”. Rather than presenting a message of hope and change, Coates’ powerful narrative instead asks his son to continue the struggle against this force, on behalf of their ancestors and themselves.