Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book is a monumental work about being black in America that every American urgently needs to read.
Between the World and Me is, in important ways, a book written toward white Americans, and I say this as one of them. White Americans may need to read this book more urgently and carefully than anyone, and their own sons and daughters need to read it as well. This is not to say this is a book about white people, but rather that it is a terrible mistake for anyone to assume that this is just a book about nonwhite people. In the broadest terms Between the World and Me is about the cautious, tortured, but finally optimistic belief that something beyond these categories persists. Implicit in this book’s existence is a conviction that people are fundamentally reachable, perhaps not all of them but enough, that recognition and empathy are within grasp, that words and language are capable of changing people, even if—especially if—those words are not ones people prefer to hear. Coates has written a book about immense and ongoing failures of humanity that is a triumph of humanism in itself, a book that renders the injuries of racism brutally near and real.
It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in the moments we lose. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the second kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.