An Exercise in Empathy.

The Common Reading Committee has called Between the World and Me an “exercise in empathy.” Tressie McMillan Cottom, writing in The Atlantic notes that, though Coates typically writes as a public historian and public sociologist, he writes Between the World and Me as a piece of literature because “[he] wants you to feel.” How did using emotion as a way of knowing and communicating affect your reading and understanding of the book?

25 responses

  1. Within Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates utilizes emotion to enable the reader to gain a personal, intimate knowledge of racism and its consequences. At the very beginning of the book, Coates notes that racism is a “visceral experience”, a strong inward feeling that goes beyond the phrases and words that describe oppression. This idea comes to life when Coates meets Dr. Jones, the mother of Prince, a man who was wrongfully shot by a police officer. Coates grounds the idea of racism to the confines of the solemn household owned by Dr. Jones. He visits her house, hoping to understand how Prince’s death impacted Dr. Jones, and he conveys the emotional implications of racial discrimination through this woman and her home. In this residence of pained burden, he ponders, “What I felt, right then, was that she was smiling through pained eyes, that the reason for my visit had spread sadness like a dark quilt over the whole house. I seem to recall music – jazz or gospel – playing in the back, but conflicting with that I also remember a deep quiet overwhelming everything” (136). Coates goes beyond words in this quote and reveals the consequences of racism in the emotional veil of a woman’s abode. The sadness becomes a quilt over the prospects of life; music becomes the severed silence of a son’s death. Within these descriptions, Coates allows the reader to perceive racism beyond its definitions. Dr. Jones’s home floods the reader with the emotional reality of oppression. Where else does Coates use visceral experiences to immerse his readers with empathy?

    • The visceral experiences within Between the World and Me elevated my reading to a more personal level. Instead of viewing Coates’ life from the outside, I often times felt as if I was right next to him and living through the same injustices. This, I believe, is the truest form of empathy. Usually, when I am confronted with issues about race, it is through the medium of a stoic news reporter, a school assignment, or rioting streets that feel a million miles away. The discussion never feels personal; it feels detached from my quiet life. However, when Coates vividly described fear in his early life, I was instantly able to relate. He describes, “ The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length fur-collared leathers, which was their armor against their world” (14). Coates explains the behavior around him with something familiar: fear. By using fear as a connection point, I can understand the logic behind large rings and medallions. I can see why people would try their hardest to appear armored, extravagant, and fearless. I am able to empathize because Coates used a common, visceral emotion to connect readers with the world of his childhood.

      • The way Coates translates the insecurity of inhabiting a black body is necessarily visceral. In order for readers of all backgrounds to understand the plight he grew up with, the plight that indeed haunts the experience of black male identity in this country, the story telling needs to be evocative and descriptive. Seeing this book as an “exercise in empathy” is critical to understanding this message.

  2. See, I think that some distinction needs to be made within the concept of empathy itself—within the term “empathy” there is a presumption of understanding and commiseration before some fact of the world. The typical use of the word “empathy” would have me feel the immediacy and impact of racism in America just as one who is facing the racism himself might—“empathy” would elevate the written word to something sublime, above the quotidian, and have it punch through the barriers dividing races.

    This, however, is a little bit of a platitude when we’re confronted with racism not just as an action or a social system but instead as a genealogy of history. Speaking of an interview with a television personality, Coates writes, “No machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week. The host read these words” (Coates 5). Coates seems to recognize the divide between the world of the white person and that of the black person. Indeed, in Between the World and Me, this divide grows beyond the scope of simple sociological fact, and ceases to be just about education, or abusive housing regulations, or police violence (thought Coates points out that these are all part and particle of the greater structure of oppression), and assumes its true form as something grotesquely, tragically historical. Coates is refreshingly sober in that he admits the inevitability of the divide in understanding of the permanent, immutable historical dialectic of race: “that should not surprise us. The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return” (Coates 111). Truly, the almost Hegelian certainty with which these words are spoken is chilling.

    Where, then, is there room for empathy, and what good can empathy do within the vise of history? Between the World and Me is not some mawkish exercise in sympathy—it does not ask us, with all the self-exonerating pomp all too common in discussions about race, to simply “be nice” in emotive supplication to a sense of guilt. That comes later. Rather, it asks us to understand the world and its nature.

    There is, however, a gap: now that we understand the dialectical forces of history that perpetuate racism, what is there to be done? What is there for me to do? This, I suppose, is a question that can only be answered by the individual, for it is a question pondered between the world and the self. Empathy seems to require careful cultivation in this case, like a fragile plant. That should not, however, diminish its value.

  3. Coates’ wide use of emotion gives the reader more perspective and insight on the subject of racial inequality. Through his descriptions dealing firsthand with racism, the reader can almost picture themselves there and empathize with Coates. “And watching him walk away, I felt that I had missed part of the experience because of my eyes, because my eyes were made in Baltimore, because my eyes were blindfolded by fear”(Coates 126). Since not everyone has experienced racism firsthand like Coates, it is important that he uses emotion to convey what the experiences were like to the readers. The emotion makes the book more personable, allowing the reader to try to feel what Coates was feeling in those scenarios. Had Coates left out his emotions while telling the story, it would not have left the same impression with the reader. And while not everyone has shared the same life experiences and struggles as Coates, the emotion displayed in Between the World and Me makes it a little easier to relate to him. The way he describes his emotions in this book allows the reader to really open their eyes to racism and its effects on the world. It also elicits a reaction and makes the reader wonder why the United States could allow racism to happen. Finally, I believe the emotion in this book causes people to be angry and want to create a change in their society to prevent anyone else from feeling “blindfolded by fear” like Coates did.

  4. As a white person living in a white society, this book is not for me. It was not written for me, published for me, meant for me. Yet here I sit, reading pages upon pages of a narrative that was not placed out for my eyes to see. It is not for my comprehension. So why is it the most important book that has ever graced my life?
    I firmly believe this book was not written for pity or for shame. It was written for understanding. Every movement, every march, parade, hashtag, every battle is fought for understanding. Between the World and Me is a genius piece of literature in that it is all-inclusive. Whether a minority or not, black, white, brown, woman or man, you gain an understanding that you never had before. You gain an understanding of another perspective that couldn’t be portrayed better by any other form.
    As a white person, living in a white society, I consider myself to be an ally, just not in the terms you would think. I see myself as an ally of the movement to end hatred and bigotry. I am fully aware that my opinions hold no standing when it comes to the #blacklivesmatter movement or any other issue involving race. I am not a minority in that sense. I benefit from an ancient standpoint that holds no bearing in the modern world, yet it continues to plague our lives. I do not know what it’s like to feel the fear that many member of our own society are forced to feel. I can only listen to their stories and offer support. It is my job to use my position in society for the good of those whose voices will not be heard. I can never consider myself as educated on the subject of racial discrimination. But that is why this book is so important. It gives a voice to the voiceless. Is forces society to listen when society chooses to turn a blind eye. It gives a narrative that is long overdue to the world. It’s shouts out that it’s time to wake up and finally evoke change. It says to the people, this is no longer a joke, this is getting stale.
    Ta Nehisi-Coates redefines the meaning of empathy in his narrative. He redefines the fabric of society as a whole. His bluntness distributes the truth of the situation all the while the emotion behind the facts forces society to digest the words and process them. Many narratives are glossed over by media, uninformed research, and many other facts. But none of those mistakes are possible to make with a case like this. That is what it truly means to be an advocate.

    • I liked your point about being an ally. Coates writes to his son saying, “do not struggle for the Dreamers…do not pin your struggle on their conversion.” While Coates does not write this book for “Dreamers” and allies, I found that his emotive language was extremely effective in revealing how much the “Dream” blinds even those most sympathetic to his viewpoint.

  5. Coates’s book certainly left me feeling some sort of way. The moment when everything really registered was in the second section of the book. Talking about his trip to France, Coates struck a nerve in me. Everything up until this point I had connected with logically. Being white, I try to stay aware of privilege, prejudice, and the gruesome history of this country. The first portion of the book certainly spoke to me as a person who has seen all the news stories about the deaths of marginalized people, especially black men, that have become commonplace in newspapers today. The first half of Between the World and Me made sense in that it fit with everything I have seen happening since I became aware of police brutality and the insecurity that comes with being part of a marginalized group.
    When Coates discussed his France trip something emotional switched inside of me. The exact line that struck me was on page 124, when he talks about visiting a garden in Paris: “At that moment a strange loneliness took hold… Perhaps it was that I had never sat in a public garden before, had not even known it would be something that I’d want to do.”
    It took me face to face with the things I take for granted. I’m a sapphic woman and have certainly not lived a life of extreme privilege, though I have been extremely lucky to come from a (mostly) financially secure white family. I live in Portland, with all its public parks. I have never considered that my knowing I can go to a public park and feel safe (most of the time) a privilege. But it is. This is something Coates does beautifully in Between the World and Me. In single lines he is able to capture a truth that some- like me- may have never considered. It connects deeply and emotionally with the reader, it insists that the reader understand.

  6. Coates exhibits a superlative ability throughout Between the World and Me which allows the readers of anywhere to feel connected to the stories of individuals. Despite the vast differences between my world and Coates’ world, Ta-Nehisi crafts words, sentences, and stories into wells flowing over with empathetic waters. He gives the reader the sense of feeling. Previously, the only senses readers may have experienced regarding the topic of oppressive brutality, and cosmic injustices would be visually, through newspaper or tv, or heard, on the radio or a late talk show. This ability to make the reader feel, and empathize with many or all of the stories, is exactly what Coates was after. Empathy is the first step in understanding, in caring. Without such empathy, Between the World and Me is nothing more than a collection of a man’s stories which we may not wish upon ourselves. With empathy, however, the reader can become angered, upset, befuddled at the mistreatment within the stories. The reader is also made to feel jubilant, eager, and passionate in times of happiness and prosperity.
    The difficult task which Coates took on, was how to provide a sense of empathy for those who have felt nothing even remotely similar to the tribulations which he himself has faced. While reading Coates’ book, I was reminded many times of an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. Within this essay, McIntosh outlines the idea that, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” She does this through a simple list of 50 daily effects of white privilege, that often go unnoticed. Likewise, Coates explains these overlooked advantages with stories, rather than 50 bullet points. Similarly to the point McIntosh makes, Coates understands the recognizable injustices are simply the first stair in a winding staircase of continual wrongdoings. Coates, fairly bluntly says to his son, “You still believe the injustice was Michael Brown. You have not yet grappled with your own myths and narratives and discovered the plunder everywhere around us.” (21) The key to the empathetic nature of the book, is being able to interpret his “myths and narratives” and see the comparative difference between the world and him, and the world and you. By enabling the reader to empathize, Coates can show the true depth of the infringement of life he, and so many others have faced.

    • I appreciate the reference to an outside work of literature – it helps draw together a more comprehensive picture of the topics we’re covering.

  7. As many others have noted, the emotional appeals in Between the World and Me were vastly effective in broadening my understanding of the foundations and implications of race in our society. One use of emotion that particularly resonated with me was Coates’ repetition of the idea of distance between himself and others, of the different worlds from which we originate. He explains this concept with: “In other words, I was part of a world. And looking out, I had friends who too were part of other words…worlds stitched into worlds like tapestry. And though I could never, myself, be a native to any of these worlds, I knew that nothing so essentialist as race stood between us” (Coates 120). While this description may not be as starkly emotional as other recollections within the work, the sentiments of both belonging and conviction left me pondering the efficacy in attempting to empathize with others. For although exercises in empathy, in attempting to understand another, may certainly be worthy of praise, the ability to truly empathize with another does not exist. That is not to say, however, that attempts at empathy are futile. Quite contrarily, Coates’ use of emotion, both stark and subtle, further convince me of the worth in attempting to understand something inherently unfathomable to me. Through this struggle of investigation, I can hope to bridge the gaps between others and myself. By trying to understand the construction and implication of race within our society, I can hope to realize that though we belong to different worlds, these worlds needn’t seem alien to one another. Although I can never truly empathize for Coates, as he and I belong to different worlds, I can attempt to understand his world and make the distance between us slightly less severe.

  8. Emotion is our most effective tool for communication. Labels such as class, religion, race, gender, and sexuality divide us into subgroups of humanity, but emotion is the link between all of them. Coates’ book was written from and to a specific subgroup, describing events that individuals who do not share his societal labels would find hard to understand. His use of emotion remedies this by describing these events as more than just a discussion of labels, statistics, and race. His fear for his son’s safety is an emotion that almost all parents can understand, and his anger at the death of his friends and peers is also universal. As a middle-class white female, I cannot pretend to understand the difficulties of being in Coates’ position as a middle-class male of color. What I can do is connect with his emotions, understand his perspective, and recognize that the problems he faces everyday are real and valid. Because race has been such a strong divider throughout history, the discussion of racism is difficult, due to the boundaries that individuals construct when confronted with the word “racism”. By understanding his emotions, I was able to comprehend Coates’ story on a human level, rather than just an intellectual one.

  9. I think, as a white person, it is scarily easy to read textbooks and scientific writing about racism and the horrible history of America and to not feel connected to it. Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s oblivion, or maybe it’s simply because someone like me will never understand what it’s like to grow up black in America. But Coates’ wrote with such genuine emotion that it was hard to not be rocked to my core about what I was reading. On pages 18 and 19 he writes about how he was almost shot by another boy when he was 11. He was only a child, middle-school age, and he already knew how little control he had over his body. How anyone – a random boy on the street corner, a cop – could take away his being in seconds. My stomach dropped as I read these pages. I have never felt that kind of danger, that lack of control over my own life, and I had to reread the passage many times just to try to wrap my head around how that can be reality for some people in what’s supposed to be a great country.

    I can also vaguely relate to his concern for his son, but in a different sense. My little brother has Down syndrome, and I am always afraid of how he is treated, whether he is accepted, and how he will live in a society that is not built to incorporate someone like him. I can protect him and love him and teach him all I know at home, but I lose control beyond the perimeter of my house. I can only hope that a bully won’t choose him to be their next target, and that people won’t overlook him because of the way he was born. Yes, this issue is different than the racism in America. But in Coates’ frustration, fear, and desperation, I recognized similar feelings in myself about the well-being of my little brother.

  10. 1) I think that using emotion as a way of knowing and communicating affects my ability to read and understand this book by allowing me to attempt—however in vain—to empathize and sympathize with what is being written, as opposed to simply absorb it as I would some sort of mathematical formula or arbitrary list of scientific facts. I say “however in vain” here not to suggest that I cannot or do not feel when I read Coates’ words, but rather, to acknowledge that a total degree of understanding would be impossible; I am, by the virtue of my own individual life experience and background, largely removed from the world that Coates describes, and thus I can imagine it, intellectually grasp it, and even feel for those within it, but to state that I can fully comprehend it would be to state a falsehood. Nevertheless, because we are human, and because we have been gifted the ability of emotion, I am able to read about this other world, however divorced from it I personally may be, and endeavor to understand the plight and hardship of the author, so that I may both recognize the injustices that he illuminates, as well as feel a fraction of a fragment of his rage, dismay, and disillusionment in response to them. By way of analogy, Between the World and Me was reminiscent of listening to a deeply intense piece of music, and though I could not literally feel as though the composer did, I was able—by the extension of my empathy and the skill of his craftsmanship—to glimpse at his emotions, and perhaps, even if just for a moment, share some of them.

    • I’d also just like to state here that I wrote my responses as a sort of extended essay; they’re posted as individual replies, but there are certain points at which they interconnect.

  11. In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, the use of emotion is a vital aspect in helping the reader connect with and attempt to understand Coates and his story of living in America as an African American. I believe that if emotion had not been a prominent aspect of his writing style, this book would not have been as impactful as it was. The use of emotion in this book made it stand out amongst all the articles and textbooks about racism that we have read over the years. This book was not merely facts about the racism African Americans face but instead, it took us on a journey with Coates through his life. The use of emotion in this book made a huge impact on me because it shortened the distance between Coates and myself. It made me feel like I was with Coates as he described different parts of his life and the racism he had witnessed and faced. It helped me try to comprehend the racism that he was describing, and this affected my understanding because instead of reading the book as if from a distance and not truly grasping his meaning, it made it seem like I was experiencing it with him, allowing me to understand the book more completely. The use of emotion also helped the readers understand the racism he described because not everyone has faced racism or faced it in the same way and the only way for Coates to get everyone on the same page was by having the readers feel his emotions. Coates wanted the readers to truly attempt to comprehend how difficult and different the lives of African American lives are and the way he did this was by using emotion to make the reader feel something; us humans are able to teach others and make an impact on them by making them feel. You felt something when sensing the emotions of a father who was writing to his son, writing to help him understand and see what their life is really about. The emotions of a father who saw the his own fear from years ago in his son after the Trayvon Martin shooting has stuck with me because no one should have to write such a letter to their child and it also showed that although we have come a long way in terms of equality there is still much more left to accomplish. A common emotion discussed in the book is fear. Fear of your body. A fear no one should have to have. When discussing moments that Coates has feared for his body were moments when emotion was bursting in the book, a decision Coates specifically made because only in this way would he be able to reach the audience and make an impact. This is why I believe that the emotion used in this book was vital to my understanding as it connected me with Coates and allowed me to try and comprehend how much inequality he and African Americans face.

  12. Reading Between the World and me truly was an emotional, visceral experience. Though, there is not doubt that Coates’ writing is intellectual and fact-filled, it is less about the intellect and more about the way it makes readers feel. By using emotion to convey a message, Coates is giving readers an opportunity to feel empathy for the way black people are forced to live and act in America. Though I am from a predominantly white community in Southern Oregon, Between the World and Me made it feel as if I were in Baltimore experiencing the inescapable fear that Coates often describes. On pages 18 and 19 Coates describes an experience in which his body was almost taken from him. At 11 years old his life was being threatened due to another young boy, who’s “body was in constant jeopardy” as was his own. He asks himself “what was the exact problem here,” unable to pinpoint just why this situation occurred. I remember reading these pages in dismay and a pressing fear for Coates’ life. Coates questions what events could have brought the young boy to be in such a frantic state of fear for his body and concluded that it simply did not matter, for the “world had outnumbered him long ago.” Instead of fear, this thought instilled a great sadness in me.
    During my reading I felt anger, sadness and hopelessness and by feeling these emotions I was able to better understand the necessity and importance of sharing stories such as the narrative Coates shared with readers. As a middle class white civilian, it is often too easy to read about racial injustices. We feel little empathy while flipping through history books and other intellectual texts. In order for people to tale notice of these issues, using emotion is essential. Emotion is an absolutely necessary component when anyone tries to speak of a passionate topic in order to teach others. Emotion is a tool used to link humans despite differences, whether they are about race, sex, gender, age or appearance. By using emotion Coates allowed me- someone who is far away from the race conflict- to take a glimpse into his struggle and even to feel the fear that seemingly ruled the way he lived.

  13. If empathy is the ability to wholly relate to another’s perspective, particularly through having experiences similar enough that claiming the other’s experience as our own would not be a terrible stretch, I am unsure that I can claim to have true empathy for Coates’ story, a story that is profoundly different from my own. Certainly, I try to imagine and understand the omnipresent fear that Coates details, one that permeates his community “powerfully, adamantly, [and] dangerously” (14), yet I do not believe that I can ever claim to entirely understand a feeling this visceral that I have never had the burden of experiencing for myself. Unlike Coates, I have never been presented with the idea of education as “a means of escape from death and penal warehousing” (26), nor have I felt like an undesireable “part of an equation” (124), both of which struck me as powerful phrases that deeply illustrated Coates’ feelings of entrapment. For the most part, I feel as though I have access to my freedom, the American Dream, and my own body, rights that Coates frequently describes as having lost.

    While Coates’ world differs from my world, I did of course encounter numerous passages that highlighted racism so rawly that for a moment I felt as though his experience were my own. Using this broader definition of empathy, I felt particularly immersed in the feeling during passages that highlighted society’s rejection of responsibility for issues affecting African Americans. For instance, he notes that a large portion of young African American men who drop out of school end up with their bodies being taken from them, whether through violence or imprisonment. While this is undoubtedly not a direct result of the men’s choice to leave school, Coates emphasizes that society responds by reprimanding the men for dropping out and “wash[ing] its hands of [them]” (33). It was heartbreaking to read that that seems to be the extent of society’s concerns for that demographic; this notion in particular made me filled with both anger at the overall apathy of American culture and empathy for its effects on Coates and others. Washing hands, which connotes both guilt and cleansing oneself of wrongdoing through purification, seems to be an apt analogy for society’s general view toward many minority groups–something that creates a guilt that can be easily (yet ineffectively) absolved.

  14. In the novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes a distance between the suffering of individuals. This distance is a sort of unbridgeable gap in conceptions of reality that disallows true understanding to be attained. I often define empathy, in its purest form, as the capacity to “suffer with”. I am not black. I do not know the intrinsic fear and sadness that comes with bearing the weight of a country founded on exploitation. For me, the emotion in the writing only reinforces this fact. In mention of his wife, Coates noted that, “…all are not equally robbed of their bodies, that the bodies of women are set out for pillage in ways [he] could never truly know” (65). Replace “he” with “I”, and put in a disenfranchised community of which you do not belong. The goal is not to bridge the gap, the goal is to recognize that the gap cannot be bridged. The ability to accept that something is beyond your true understanding is the closest form of empathy I believe we can achieve. The acceptance of this truth means that I cannot define Coates’s plight for him. He can describe it to me and I can accept it wholly and “as is”.

  15. Throughout my schooling I have read textbook upon textbook about slavery throughout the world, but especially in the United States. The generic, intellectual language used to explain the plight of African Americans allowed for a realization of what occurred, however I had no connection to the events described. I was able to grasp the concepts without feeling much emotion towards the individuals who were involved. Coates provided a different perspective, a much more intimate and personal perspective, which allowed for me to better understand the struggles of people of color. I will never fully comprehend the injustice within the American society regarding African Americans, for I am a white female. Coates allowed me to empathize with him through his personal story, especially describing his emotional response to many events. Many people can understand the anger felt when losing a friend, or the fear and protective nature of parents towards their children. Incorporating these details into the narrative allowed me to empathize with the emotional aspect of Coates’ life without experiencing the same events. Coates’ use of emotion creates a bond between him and the reader, allowing for more understanding of how the individual is affected by divisions based upon race instead of a broad explanation as seen in textbooks.

  16. As students, one is constantly bombarded by facts and figures showing America’s racial inequality. While these statistic are no doubt jarring to many, it does little to encourage an awakening from what Coates calls “the Dream”.
    “Between the World and Me” steps away from the analytical perspective, to create an emotion driven narrative. Instead of displaying solely numbers and anecdotal evidence showing a far from equal America, Coates writes for his son. This approach allows readers to connect with the message of the book in a much deeper way.
    Many of the readers are members of the “Dreamer” society and/or are “white”. Many live in relative privilege. They will probably never face the struggle that a black American faces during their lifetime. Yet Coates is able to rope his reader in, and allow them to feel his pain. He does this by writing about his emotions and reactions to the mundane things, like raising a child, and historical events that most other Americans experience. One example is 9/11. Coates’ perspective of the event is negative, but in a way that differs from the norm. He writes that his “heart was cold”, as he looked at the smoke of the Twin Towers, a few miles away from his home. He “kept thinking about how southern Manhattan had always been Ground Zero for us. They had always auctioned our bodies down there, in that same devastated, and rightly names, financial district….I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died. They were not human to me. Black white, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature…”(87). As a reader who lives in the “Dream” this passage is shocking to me. Coates, as a black man, feels so betrayed by his country and the people who are meant to protect, that his empathy is cut off.
    My, and my family’s, experience with this event makes this passage very moving to me. I have always viewed 9/11 as a horrendous, but unique tragedy. However, to Coates, it is nothing extraordinary, nothing outside the realm of violence and oppression that his people have felt for generation. He juxtaposes his feeling and reactions with the presumed American’s reaction to the event. This ability to show with emotion and feeling provides a deep connection with me, as the reader. I am able to see an event that I know myself, and see it through his eyes.

  17. It’s one thing to acknowledge a different set of experiences, and quite another to begin to comprehend the ramifications of those experiences. When the topic is as intricate and polarizing as racism, illustrating harsh truths comes easier when the tongue used is raw and real as emotion itself. There is, then, no way to ignore the experiences Coates lays out before the reader. His personal perspective against a backdrop of ages and ages of oppression creates a stunning impact. Truthfully, even the bloodiest pages of history can at times come off as bland or unapproachable for modern readers, but Coates’ factual and anecdotal evidence manages to avoid this common trap when taken in the emotional context he provides.

    Introspective moments where he steps aside to more personally address his son were particularly potent. These interludes take the conversation down from a global scale to one heartbeat, one human life he’s desperately trying to shelter from the storm. Within this relationship, emotions swirl – fiercely protective love being a prominent one. It isn’t difficult to find something of this father-son relationship that also lives in the reader’s familial interactions. Communicating in an emotional landscape paints the voice of the book as that of a human, not words on a page. This makes the unsettling injustices of the world that much more poignant, and that much more upsetting.

  18. I believe that Coates wrote Between the World and Me with the perfect balance of history, sociology and emotion. The combination of the three allowed for all readers to learn the history and begin to understand the depth of racism a little better. When I first began the book, I realized that with my own voice I would not be able to understand or comprehend the subject. So with the help of the internet, I was able to find a recording of Coates reading the entire book. I felt that this was the closest I could come to understand, as I, a white person living in a predominately white neighborhood, would never know what Coates spoke of. Hearing his voice made it seem like a conversation as well, especially since the book is written as a letter. It seemed more informal, like someone having a casual conversation, telling me personal anecdotes while mixing in history. It almost felt as I could hear the emotion and what Coates was thinking as he wrote the letter. His emphasis on certain words and speech patterns while reading out loud made the experience even more personal. By using his stories, I believe that Coates was able to connect more with the readers as there was much more emotion attached to these rather than just facts and history. I also think that by not offering any answers, Coates allows for the reader to have their own emotion towards the topic as well as leave room for the reader to be involved and think, even after reading the novel. For me, Coates’ emotion was the only way to understand the book and the topic of racism.

  19. In my IB Theory of Knowledge class, we learned about different areas of knowledge and various ways of knowing (WoK). Emotion plays a large role as a way of knowing in subjective and complex domains with unclear answers, such as ethics, alongside reasoning, logic, intuition, and many more WoK. What I found through exploring these was that emotion is often more of a factor in shared knowledge as opposed to personal knowledge. An example of shared knowledge is a rule of algebra, as many have worked off of the work of others to create this knowledge. But, to know the feeling of home, the experience of music, or in general to know the world just as you have learned through personal experience, these are examples of personal knowledge, which often involve the power of emotion. This is why emotion is crucial to this book. Coates presents the Dream as a kind of shared knowledge necessary to those who see themselves as white. In the Dream, the order of society is as it should be, with perfect white suburban life and hidden destruction seen as rightful so long as it protects its fantasy. This knowledge is as shared and indisputable as the science behind a hurricane or tornado, and thus negates the need for change. However, those who lay outside of this Dream have lived its detrimental effects and live with the personal knowledge that it is an illusion.

    Coates makes it clear that the only way to destroy the Dream is through the Dreamers themselves becoming aware of its falsehood, writing “The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all” (Coates 151). And so Coates writes about the fear for one’s life in the neighborhoods black families are trapped in, the fear that comes with having a child born with dark skin. He writes of Prince Jones’ innocent and good life taken and of his mother left to grieve. He does this to call upon our emotions and tear away at the fragile shared Dream as well as reveal his personal knowledge, a feeling, of injustice. He does so through painful analysis, showing readers that it is not one neighborhood’s policies’ fault, not one cop’s mistake, but the fault of our entire history of plunder and our acceptance that to reduce another human is simply the way life is. He writes of the difference between those who walk with statistical safety and life advantages, and those who cannot even claim control of their own body, a key element of this book. Coates emphasizes this difference by comparing our country to an entire universe, his neighborhood and suburbs to opposing galaxies. This difference must be emphasized to be felt, and felt to be understood and known to be real, and so emotion is crucial. This book underlines the division of life in America, and presents readers stuck in the cause, in the Dream, with a way out by allowing emotion to create a form of personal knowledge that can lead to change.

  20. While reading Between the World and Me, I noticed that the main theme behind the book was Coates’ love and concern for his son. By understanding and utilizing the fact that love and care for others is a universally shared human trait, he ensures that everyone will understand the messages he is trying to convey, and relate deeply to the emotions and feelings he shares. I have a younger brother and sister who I care about immensely, and although we don’t struggle with the same issues as those presented in Coates’ book, I know what it is like to want to share lessons and insights with someone you care about and feel responsible for. Because of this, I was easily able to relate with and understand the book and the messages that Coates was trying to convey.

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