Book Review: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Imagine receiving a heartfelt letter from a father to his 15-year-old son, addressing the hardships and truths that Black men encounter in America. That’s exactly what “Between the World and Me” offers. The author shares personal stories and encounters with racism, aiming to equip young Black individuals with a deeper understanding of the challenges they may face as they navigate through life.

If you’re contemplating whether to dive into this book, this review will highlight the essential lessons you can glean from its pages, helping you determine if it’s a worthwhile read.

Without any more delay, let’s begin.

Key Insights

Lesson 1: Racism persists in modern America, given its foundation on black labor.

In the United States, we’ve all heard of the American Dream, the belief that anyone can achieve success with hard work and determination. But for many black people in this country, that dream is far from easy to attain. Ongoing racism creates significant barriers on their path to success.

Throughout American history, black people have faced oppression and discrimination. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights movement, racism continues to be a deeply rooted problem. Shockingly, the American Dream itself was partially built on the exploitation and oppression of black people.

Slavery was an unfortunate reality in the colonies even before the American Revolution. Some of the very men we now consider the Founding Fathers owned slaves themselves. After the war, the labor of enslaved Africans played a significant role in building the nation’s prosperity. Approximately 1.5 million people were brought to the United States as slaves, with the majority ending up in the South.

The end of the Civil War in 1865 marked the official abolition of slavery and racism. However, African Americans faced continued discrimination and violence during the Reconstruction era and the subsequent Jim Crow era, characterized by segregation and inequality.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement emerged to tackle these issues head-on. It led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aimed to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Despite this significant progress, racism still persists today, both in private and public spheres.

One persistent form of racism is institutional racism. Black people often unjustly bear the burden of being associated with violence and crime, leading to racial profiling by law enforcement and biased portrayals in the media.

Moreover, the lack of resources and support for creating safe and prosperous communities has disproportionately affected black people for generations. This disparity has forced some individuals to turn to criminal activities as a means of survival. For many African Americans, the pursuit of the American Dream is accompanied by ongoing struggles and obstacles.

It’s important for us all to acknowledge and confront the realities of racism that persist in our society. By understanding the historical context and current challenges faced by black Americans, we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable future. Only then can we truly make the American Dream accessible to all.

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Lesson 2: Both the streets and classrooms are hostile environments for people of African descent.

In the eye-opening book “Between The World And Me”, the author shares a powerful lesson he learned from his own life. As a child, he vividly recalls feeling afraid of both the streets and his schools. In low-income black communities, the streets can be perilous, forcing residents to develop survival skills to navigate them safely. Gangs further instill fear in these neighborhoods, causing individuals to meticulously plan their daily routes in order to steer clear of potential danger.

Surprisingly, even gang members display a peculiar respect for the white world, directing their assertions of power towards the predominantly white institutions. This points to a stark reality within the education system—black children often face limited opportunities compared to their white counterparts and are discouraged from nurturing their natural curiosity.

The author personally encountered this lack of encouragement in the Baltimore schools he attended. However, he discovered inspiration and a profound sense of self-identity by immersing himself in books that chronicled the black experience in America.

Coates’ poignant narrative underscores the challenges faced by black individuals in their pursuit of knowledge, while also shedding light on the transformative power of literature in reclaiming personal identity and resilience.

Lesson 3: Black people will have to contend with the enduring presence of racism in the world they inhabit in the future.

As parents, it’s only natural to worry about our children’s future and want to shield them from harm. But what happens when we realize that we can’t fully protect them from the fear and hatred they may encounter due to their race or ethnicity? How do we prepare them for a world that sometimes seems so unjust? These questions can weigh heavily on our hearts, but amidst the challenges, we must hold onto the possibility of change and strive for a brighter future.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer and journalist who has personally experienced the struggles faced by young black men, offers insights that resonate with parents everywhere. In 2012, the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman, shook the nation. The ensuing legal process saw Zimmerman charged with murder and manslaughter, only for those charges to be dropped. This event, along with many others, serves as a stark reminder of the injustice and inequality that persist.

Another heart-wrenching example is the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. The lack of charges against Wilson and the subsequent protests that erupted highlight the deep-seated racial tensions in society.

These incidents, combined with the negative stereotypes and biased portrayals of black men as criminals, underscore the ongoing problem of institutional racism in the United States. It’s completely understandable to feel disheartened and frustrated by the slow pace of progress. However, Coates encourages us not to lose hope.

Coates firmly believes that our children, including his own son, hold the power to shape a better world for themselves and future generations. By educating themselves, engaging in activism, and refusing to accept the status quo, young people can actively contribute to positive change. While the road ahead may be challenging, it is vital that we continue to fight for justice, equality, and a society that values and respects every individual, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

In the face of adversity, we must remember that change is possible. We can equip our children with knowledge, resilience, and a determination to create a more inclusive and compassionate world. Together, we can make a difference and ensure that our children inherit a future defined by justice, equality, and hope.

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Lesson 4: It is imperative to challenge the American dream because it represents a white-centric vision that is upheld by a racist society.

This book teaches us an important lesson about the American Dream and its connection to slavery and racism. It reveals that the American Dream was built upon a foundation of racial inequality, with slavery playing a crucial role in its establishment and perpetuation. However, simply making superficial changes to the American Dream is not enough to solve the problem. To truly create a society that is inclusive and equitable, we must completely dismantle this myth that has been ingrained in our culture.

The American Dream, as it stands, primarily caters to the aspirations of white people while disregarding the existence of racist systems that persist in our society, such as the media, police, and education system. This disparity means that black individuals are not granted the same opportunities to pursue their dreams as their white counterparts. The very institutions that should support and uplift all citizens instead label black people as criminals, making it exceedingly difficult for them to achieve their aspirations.

Furthermore, the American Dream is often portrayed as something inherently tied to whiteness, even though individuals of diverse backgrounds can achieve it. Black people often face the pressure to conform to the stereotype of the “successful black” in order to succeed in a predominantly white society, adding an extra burden to their pursuit of the American Dream.

Coates goes beyond critiquing the American Dream itself and examines the concept of a “dream” in general. Through his experiences at Howard University, he discovered the diverse and complex realities of black life, realizing that black people are not a monolithic group. This understanding led him to the conclusion that there is no singular “black American Dream” that can replace the existing one. Instead of attempting to debunk myths with more myths, Coates suggests a more direct approach.


1. The Poignant Focus on the Black Body

Coates’s book is incredibly insightful, written with profound poignancy. One aspect that struck me was his emphasis on what truly matters when we discuss racial injustice: black lives. Coates vividly portrays the black body as the primary target of racism and social injustice. He powerfully asserts that racial oppression is not an abstract concept but a visceral experience that inflicts physical and psychological harm.

His words remind us that racism goes far beyond mere words or statistics; it manifests itself in the violent destruction of black bodies. Coates’s unflinching focus on the realities of racial oppression forces readers to confront the pervasive presence of racism in our modern world.

2. The Importance of Remembering

Coates eloquently explores the power of forgetting in upholding unequal power structures. He reminds us that in our pursuit of equality, we must not forget the injustices of the past and the present.

In a society where protests can fade from memory, it is crucial to remember the victims of racial injustice. Coates urges us to keep these galling episodes at the forefront of our minds, allowing our memories to guide our actions towards meaningful change.

By highlighting the danger of collective amnesia, Coates challenges us to actively confront and dismantle systems of oppression. His message resonates deeply, urging us to hold ourselves accountable and actively work towards a more just society.

3. A Window into Different Perspectives

Coates’s book offers a window into experiences and perspectives that may be unfamiliar to many readers, including myself. As a white individual with a privileged upbringing, I was unaware of the hardships and struggles faced by people of color due to systemic racism. Coates’s honest storytelling and personal reflections shed light on the realities of growing up black in America.

He reveals the stark contrast between his own experiences and those of his son, highlighting the urgent need for awareness and empathy. Through his powerful narrative, Coates invites readers to step outside their comfort zones and gain a deeper understanding of the racial inequalities ingrained in our society.


1. Lack of Acknowledgment of Intellectual Predecessors

Coates provides valuable insights into the black experience in America. However, I felt that he missed an opportunity to reference and engage with intellectual predecessors who have also written about this subject matter.

Notably, Coates does not mention influential figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, who explored the concept that forms the title of the book. Including references to these scholars and writers would have enriched the book’s context and allowed readers to delve deeper into the broader history of African American thought.

2. Unclear Link between Prince Jones’s Death and Structural Racism

Coates recounts the tragic murder of his college friend, Prince Jones, at the hands of the police. While he touches on the role of structural racism in this incident, I found the connection somewhat unclear.

Coates could have provided a more explicit explanation of how the behavior of black individuals in power contributes to the perpetuation of structural racism. This lack of clarity may leave some readers, including his son, confused about the intended message and hinder a comprehensive understanding of the issue.

3. Lack of Clarity on Intentional Aspects of Structural Racism

Throughout the book, Coates makes claims about “White America” as a syndicate protecting its power and the intentional nature of racial violence. However, I found his arguments lacking in specificity and clarity regarding the intentional aspects of these claims.

While he acknowledges the silent consent of some white individuals, he doesn’t clearly outline how structural racism is intentionally perpetuated. This leaves certain questions unanswered and may lead to frustration or ambiguity for readers seeking a more in-depth understanding.


“Between The World And Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a book that demands attention and reflection. It provides a powerful and necessary perspective on the realities of being black in America. While some aspects of the book may be challenging or uncomfortable for readers, it is precisely through this discomfort that growth and understanding can occur.

Coates’s writing delves deep into the systemic issues of racism and inequality that continue to persist in our society. By sharing personal experiences, historical context, and thought-provoking analysis, he creates a vivid picture of the struggles faced by black Americans. It is a call to action, urging readers to confront their own privileges and work towards a more just and equitable future.

If you are interested in politics, “Between The World And Me” is a must-read. It offers valuable insights into the complexities of racial dynamics and exposes the harsh realities that exist beyond the surface of our society. By immersing yourself in Coates’s words and absorbing his ideas, you can gain a deeper understanding of the profound impact that race has on individuals and communities.

This book has the power to inspire change, both on an individual level and within society as a whole. It challenges us to question our preconceptions, confront uncomfortable truths, and take action towards dismantling systemic racism. It is not an easy journey, but an essential one if we are to strive for a future where equality and justice prevail.

About the Author

Ta-Nehisi Coates, an Atlantic national correspondent and the author of the memoir “The Beautiful Struggle,” explores his profound connection with his father, Paul Coates.

In recognition of his exceptional work, Coates was honored with the George Polk Award in Journalism in 2014. The following year, he received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2015.

Buy The Book: Between The World And Me

If you want to buy the book Between The World And Me, you can get it from the following links:

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