In reflecting on Between the World and Me, what points will stay with you? Did you find it to be optimistic? Pessimistic? Why so?

21 responses

  1. The main point that will stay with me is the sheer lack of understanding I will always have of racism. As much as I try to imagine, I will never know what it feels like to be so disadvantaged by my appearance. I will never know the fear and the disembodiment that Coates has experienced. I suppose that after this read, I am more aware of my ignorance than I have ever been.
    Regarding whether I find this book to be optimistic or pessimistic, I truthfully find it to be neither. I find it to be realistic. I, like Coates seems to imply, cannot see a near future in which racism is vanquished. I see shadows of racism rampant in American society, and frankly, it depresses me. However, this book does not give me the impression that we live in a completely hopeless world. It simply expresses the injustices of our world without minimizing them. Coates suggests that racism will never be entirely gone. But simultaneously, I receive the impression that inequality doesn’t always have to be victorious. After all, aren’t Coates’ successful career and his son’s comfortable life proof of him defying the odds?

    • Hi, Laura,

      I, like you, will never understand the disembodiment that Coates experiences as a product of racism. To live in a country where my appearance exists as the majority shields me the repercussions of isolating, racist views. Coates’ interpretation of the “American Dream”—which he defines as “acting white, […] talking white, […] being white” (111)—exposes the reality of our materialistic, egoistic culture. Rather than value human beings for their intellectual and social qualities, the mainstream view remains to equate human worth with possessions or status. Since minority groups typically render synonymous with lower income statuses or less material acquisition, they often receive an inferior view.

      I agree with you in saying that Coates’ outlook rings realistic, rather than optimistic or pessimistic. While efforts to alleviate the consequences of racism prove effective in certain circumstances—as illustrated by the favorable lifestyles of Coates family and Prince Jones (via his mother, Dr. Mable Jones)—complete eradication of racism glimmers only as an unattainable dream. Although racism can never prove just or fair, it can provide the opportunity for victims to rise above their social expectations and create better futures for their children (as in Coates’ and Dr. Jones’ experiences). As you implied, injustice may permeate our world, but our society does not remain hopeless.


  2. Throughout the novel the narrator tries to connect with his heritage and his culture however he constantly discovers that there is not one definition for African American. No one answer that will explain why he is being treated unjustly, or one path that would lead to freedom. At the end of the novel, he suggests that there is no promise that the ‘dreamers’ will ever realize injustice, yet with this novel he has helped readers wake up from the dream. Therefore the message is not entirely pessimistic. One thing that sticks out to me is how he constantly refers to the Mecca. It represent a sanctuary where people of diverse backgrounds and harmony was truly achieved. I think this presents an important example of what kinds of communities we should strive to build- ones that are welcoming to everyone’s identities.

  3. The point that will stay with me is similar to what Laura said- that I will just never quite understand what Coates went through. I’ve never had to deal with racism, so I can’t relate to the stories he told about always fearing for his life.
    In Between the World and Me, Coates shares a lot of his experiences with racism that are dismal and seem to express little hope. However, even with all of these depressing anecdotes, I believe the story is still optimistic. I believe Coates included all those stories about racism and the inequality he faced not to put down the US but to open people’s eyes about racism. He wants his son to be aware of the challenges black people faced in the past and are continuing to face today. He also includes though that he wants his son’s life to be different than his. “What I wanted was to put as much distance between you and that blinding fear as possible. I wanted you to see different people living by different rules. That was all I lived for”(Coates 126). Coates expresses his hope for a different future, one where his son doesn’t have to fear for his life and experience inequality like he did.

  4. When I finished reading the book yesterday, I was puzzled. It had not ended like I expected. Instead of hopeful words of wisdom and encouragement, I was met with unanswered questions and personal frustration. During the read, it seemed as though the author was slowly building up to a profound conclusion he had reached. After all, what was the point of the book if it didn’t give the reader a direction to move forward? I still remember reading the last page and feeling like Ta-Nehisi Coates had left something out. Surely this couldn’t be the end of the book. What must this generation do to change the institutionalized racism of our culture? Is there even hope for the future?

    These questions plagued me for the next day. For some reason, I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling brought about by the book’s conclusion. Eventually, I remembered there was a list of supplemental materials online and quickly scoured them to find answers. It wasn’t until I read Michelle Alexander’s book review for the New York Times, that I started to feel less uneasy. I wasn’t alone; she initially felt the same way I did about the book. Eventually however, she came to understand that Coates didn’t intend to answer all of our questions. Instead, he intentionally omitted giving us answers in order to force us to think for ourselves. This immediately resonated with me. It all made sense! After all, one of the major premises in the book was learning to question (and continually question) the world around you. Maybe the ending was a clever way of reinforcing this point or maybe the answers to questions of race must be made personally. Either way, the book had suddenly changed before my eyes. What was once dismal had transformed into a message of hope and faith in individual reflection. I believe one could read this book any number of times and constantly discover something new to take away. For me this first time through, the idea of constantly questioning one’s reality was profound.

    • I agree with you Makenna, this book allows us to question the world around us. Throughout Between the World and Me, Coates notes that many people don’t question the culture around them. Many people constrict their lives with the American Dream and the idea of being “white” or “black”. Without critically thinking about the traditions and conforms of society, many people are unknowingly sanctioning America’s dark past and present. As Coates points out, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage” (103). People continue this tradition of enslavement without giving it a second thought because they never gave it any thought at all. Rape, manglings, and destruction become as regular and normal as the morning newspaper. Coates gives this culture the opportunity to look in on oneself and question the tradition and conformity that doesn’t spark any level of profundity until now. Having the chance to read this book allows me to look at my own actions and associations with traditions. At this integral point in my life, I can actively question the evil I sanction. I no longer want to disregard something based on the fact that it is “normal”. After all, normal and traditional doesn’t always correlate with ethical and moral. From reading this book, I find it clear that questions lead to more questions, but in the scope of the world, these questions can help reveal the reality of tradition.

  5. The idea that race is a social construction will definitely stay with me the most. I identify as Ashkenazi Jewish and Eastern European rather than white, as I feel ashamed of my connection to such institutionalized racism and privilege. My predecessors were not directly involved in the creation of the United States. The majority of them were Jewish (I am also part Welsh, English and Native American) and fleeing the holocaust. I lost many to the holocaust and my ancestors experienced much discrimination upon entering this country. However, I still play a part in White America, due to the color of my skin and the resulting advantages I receive over others, even if I do not contain racist sentiments. (I highly recommend the article “Dear White America” by George Yancey, as it addresses this idea in depth.) Consequently, I felt optimistic to read that race is a human creation. After finishing Between the World and Me, I felt as though I no longer had to conform to being white. Being white is not a culture, such as being Jewish, but a product engineered to create hierarchal differences between civilians. I cannot completely abandon my whiteness, however, in that I would ultimately be preserving racism in my denial of the privileges I am granted over others due to physicality. Ultimately, I found Between the World and Me uplifting, despite the grim reality of race relations in the United States. I now feel more grounded in my identity and more determined to level the playing field of opportunity to people of all backgrounds.

  6. Even though I identify as a person of color and have experienced racial profiling, Coates introduced me to the broad impact institutional racism has on the basic values, beliefs and habits of citizens where racism is present. The story of the woman pushing Coates’s son and the depth of her action that was explored in Coates’s narrative demonstrated the inherent racial advantage felt by many white “Dreamers”. The way Coates described the facial expressions, the man who entered the scene to defend the woman, even down to the words of “I could have you arrested!” (95) helped me see this whole situation in a new light. On the surface, the situation may seem as an overreaction by Coates to a rude New Yorker, but as Coates pieced each part of the interaction, Coates’s response became a justified reaction to me. Throughout the book, Coates refers to his body as property owned by the white race, not belonging to him. The strigent words of the white man emphasizes Coates’s lack of ownership of his own body, highlighting the socially constructed power gap between races. I would never have even recognized the subtle undertone of racial inequality in this situation. I don’t see Coates’s narrative as either optimistic or pesstimsitic, but rather factual. Racism is present and our country was built on the backs of people of color. And becuase of this, its the unjust job of people of color to understand the emotional and societal impact of what they do, what they say, and how they choose to react to continuous injsutice.

    • That scene in the book, with the woman who pushed Coates’s son, was one of the most impactful moments in the entire book for me, as strange as that may sound. There were other passages in the book that were more violent or more shocking; however, like Zaria said, the detail Coates put into the description of what happened made me realize that there are probably endless other everyday scenarios that routinely play themselves out where institutionalized racism or marginalization in any of its forms, play a key role, even if it is very subtle. The systemic oppression of “black bodies” by “those who believe they are white” has, unfortunately become so ingrained in our society that most people no longer recognize the sort of incident Coates describes as anything related to racism. Overall, I did not find this book to be pessimistic, because Coates did not aim to upset or scare his son, for whom the book was written, but instead educate him and protect him with knowledge. That said, it definitely did not feel optimistic to me. The end to the book did not hold some profound answer or hope for the future, but it did not seem like Coates necessarily wanted his story to be either optimistic or pessimistic in tone.

  7. One of the points that struck me while reading Between the World and Me concerned how fundamentally different life is for one growing up under the label “Black.” With Coates’ help, I can see that “race” is the environment in which you live and the existence that is imposed on you from the moment you are born.

    I realized that I think of myself as a human without a label. Yet because of deeply ingrained, institutionalized racism, many people are forced to endure under labels others have ascribed to them. They are constantly told what they “are.” So do you see yourself as a human without thinking of labels, or does your label become who you are?

    When I think of myself as a label, rather than as a person, I am a white girl who grew up in a decidedly white community in a predominantly white town, in a very white state whose constitution contained racist language until 2002, in the mostly white Pacific Northwest, USA. Whites in my community enjoy lives largely free of labels. I hadn’t really thought hard about that fact, even as I had acknowledged it, until very recently when I became a minority resident of another country. And then I realized: I have personally known two black men in my life. Both are very brilliant, high-achieving, award-winning young men who do not fit the stereotypes, commonly portrayed in the media, of a violent and indolent burden on society.

    It’s ironic that, in my white community, a black man attempts to bridge the gap and engage our limited racial interaction and knowledge with humor. At the Corvallis farmer’s market he stands smiling, next to a table with a large sign reading: “Meet a Real Black Man. Free Hugs.” A large crowd gathers in front of him and people are lined up to hug him. I wonder how many people his message really strikes.

    I haven’t decided whether I find the book to be ultimately optimistic or pessimistic, because it appears to be both to me. Many of the things Coates has to say to his son seem to be pessimistic, but I think the act of writing this book, the fact that it was written, is optimistic.

  8. For me, one of the most prominent observations made in Between the World and Me was when Coates was wondering how he was supposed to live free, while being black in America (12). Rather than being able to directly answer this question, he realizes that “the question is unanswerable” (12). It doesn’t seem to matter how many books he reads, discussions he has, or where he travels. However, and what struck me the most in this section, he realizes that just because he cannot answer the question of how to “live in this [his] black body” does not mean his curiosity and desire to answer this question were in vain. This really resonated with me because I feel this theme can be found in all of the human race. Just like Coates’s desire to answer this unanswerable question, we as humans attempt to explain the unexplainable. We create theories for unexplained physics phenomenon in order answer questions that we are fundamentally incapable of explaining, and in the process, we discover new, sometimes unrelated, information that better helps us understand our universe. We discuss and debate works of literature in order to derive and objective meaning while making subjective interpretations that, while may never give us direct answers, unearth more about ourselves than we originally intended. For example, perhaps through discussing where the concept of race originated, we better understand human nature. This is not to say that this question is wholly unanswerable, but through discussion, do we not unearth conclusions about us as a society and individuals in the process? Where would we be without the curiosity and desire to answer the unanswerable?

  9. After completing Between the World and Me, the fear and anxiety expressed by Coates regarding the survival and protection of his body resonated with me because I have never feared for the security of my being. Coates discusses living in a state of continual apprehension due to his “black body” and the prevalence of death associated with and linked to the body. He recalls “being amazed that death could so easily rise up from nothing of a boyish afternoon” (20), implying that violence and death are in fact, a normality, rather than an intermittent and horrifying occurrence within society, especially in his personal world. Reading this book allowed me to gain perspective on a world so easily filled with brutality and pain, however hidden from my realm of existence it may be. The numerous encounters with violence and death of loved ones that Coates touches on in Between the World and Me reminds me to be aware that my personal view and experience of the world varies greatly in terms of safety and exposure in comparison to those around me. This book comments on the harsh realities of the world unbeknownst to many rather than attempting to be blatantly optimistic or pessimistic. Coates analyzes his experiences and those of his peers to provide an account of the reality experienced by those who possess a “black body”. In my opinion, he neither advocates for change nor degrades others throughout his book, but instead, comments on his experiences of a world that employs race as a means of distinction and entitlement.

  10. *note: this is intended as the seventh and final part of an extended response to all of the questions.

    7) In reflecting, the points that will most linger on my mind are those of race, change, and what the future holds. To extrapolate upon this, I find the prevalence of racism to be lamentable—lamentable in that it still feeds into the vicious ideologies of modern racial supremacists, lamentable in that it still seeps into the minds of communities and drives them to antagonize others, lamentable in that it allows our current and contemporary epoch to be governed by the lingering history of racism within this nation—and lamentable in that so long as this history perpetuates its dark shadow, we shall forever remain divided, with all such idle pretenses of a post-racial society amounting to mere optimistic delusion. As for whether the book was ultimately optimistic or pessimistic, and as for what change should be sought, and in regard to what the future may hold—well, it’s complicated. If we more-or-less bastardize, or, actually, extend upon Coates’ assertion that race is the child of racism, and rewrite it as a self-perpetuating Ouroboros-esque entity, then there is only one true fundamental question to be asked: will history rule us in the end? I’ll explain using my viewpoint:

    “Race” (hair and hue) comes first; the physical differences and nothing more.

    “Racism” comes next; these are the perceived implications of “race” (hair and hue).

    Geography may feed into this, too, as if the “whites” didn’t use “black” to justify slavery, they ostensibly would’ve used European and African, as such national or continental divides have always been used to justify wars and colonial expansion and imperial invasion around the world.

    History plays a fundamental role into this, as well, for if divides across “racial” or geographical lines cause one population to treat the other population differently, they will develop a collective history that cannot be shared by the members of the other group in broad and general swathes; this is, perhaps, the most vital and long-lasting element, for it cannot be changed, as we cannot rewrite or undo the past.

    As an intersectionality forms between the “racism” and geographical or national discrimination, as well as the history that forms between the two groups—that is, one as oppressor, and the other as oppressed—two subcultures will invariably emerge.

    Once a general and broad subculture forms on lines of discrimination, “race,” as in hair and hue, will quite literally have given birth to itself and take on meanings of its own—for the implications will begin to be seen not only between the groups, but within them—and so to be “white” and to be “black” will be different over time on a broad and general level.

    Taking all of this into account, variations as to individual assimilation within either subculture may be largely different, and the only way to enter a truly post-racial society, if it is even possible, is to cast aside all layers of this phenomenon aside from the historical one. That is to say, although there is no such reality as a mass homogenous “White America” or “Black America,” in such an era, being “white” or being “black” should carry nothing more than perceptions of hair, hue, and distant history.

    So, is the book optimistic or pessimistic? I suppose it all depends on one’s belief in the possibility of a truly post-racial era, as was envisioned eight years ago by optimists when President Obama took office; apart from a few truths that I believe in—that solutions must arise from the problem, that over-generalities can only go so far and only productively last so long, and that cronyism and unthinking partisan loyalty is ultimately counterproductive—there is no knowledge upon which I may presently draw from with which a definitive answer may be revealed. Arguably, however, I believe Coates’ fatalistic viewpoint is one that does not inspire hope, as with one quote, “In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake . . . ” (7). Nor do I find his relentless antagonizing of anything to do with “White America” particularly inspiring, as such, “Schools did not reveal truths, they concealed them. Perhaps they must be burned away so that the heart of this thing might be known. . . . I felt there could be no escape for me or, honestly, anyone else,” (27). And above all else, I find his denial of progress of any meaningful sort to be either at odds with my own understanding of history, or an altogether rejection of the possibility of purposeful change, as evidenced, “No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by criminal irresponsibility,” (33). I suppose that a certain degree of collectivist thought is necessary in that we are all America, but the idea is not to destroy all semblances of such thought—merely to eradicate as many of the manifestations of racism in present times as is possible—so that those once omnipresent divides become retained in past history and nothing else. In response to these quotes, I can only offer my personal disagreement with the dismissal of schools as mere puppet factions of an oppressive majority that serve no other function, for I ultimately believe that such a worldview is damaging, not because schooling will solve all of the problems, discriminations, and inequities within America or the world, but because it never hurts; as for his comment about “racism” being a veritable act of nature—in that all cruel and barbaric actions undertaken in its name were inevitable by the merit and virtue of its invention—I also disagree, for those actions—the Middle Passage and the Trail of Tears, as well as the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and all of the policies under Stalin and Mao that, respectively, led to the deaths of millions upon millions upon millions of Russians and Chinese individuals—were the actions of men in their time and place—their epoch and geography—and to call them acts of nature is to be disingenuous; nature cannot realize its wrongs, nor cease to wield its forces against mankind, but we can, we did, we have, and to deny that is to deny history, to deny progress, to deny change, to deny one of the “universal properties” of humanity, and most bitterly, to deny hope. In the end, Coates essentially says that to be “black” is different, and he portrays “White America” as some sort of cohesive and oppressive whole built seemingly-necessarily atop the bodies of “Black America,” and so in his mind, “Black America” will never be truly equal, unless “White America” altogether ceases to be—yes, it may, over many generations of gradual change, come closer and closer—but it will never assimilate fully into what Coates calls “the Dream.” Whether this is true, I cannot honestly say—these are forces and things far beyond myself and far above my current comprehension—but as I understand it, we can either embrace optimism and hope that Coates is wrong, or accept his cold pessimism as reality—with all of the implications that such a point-of-view holds—for I cannot say with any honest shred or modicum of clarity what the realist outlook is. So, one last time, is Between the World and Me an optimistic or a pessimistic work? Well, that all depends on us, now doesn’t it?

  11. There were sections of “Between the World and Me” that I had a hard time reading. It seemed as though Coates had little hope for the future, that America will forever be plagued with the racial inequality and violence. But, after I finished the book, I believe that is not Coates message. Instead, what he is showing is what he has experienced as a black American. Throughout his life he felt angry, frustrated, and targeted because of his identity. Consequently, he has little optimism for the future. However, he message is not for the reader to feel as angry or as hopeless. His message for the reader is that racism and inequality not only live but thrive in American society today. This book, to me, was a narrative that calls for the destruction of the equality and freedom facade that America has so proudly boasted for the past 240 years.

  12. The observation that will stick with me the most is just how much black children are taught to be cautious in the face of threats from white America. As a white child, I was never taught to hold back to not get noticed or to be extra careful in the prescence of authority. Coates spoke of how he was physically punished as a child because his parents were so fearful of him getting in trouble and getting killed. Coates recounts an interview with a woman who lost her son because he wanted to play his music loudly, a normal request for any white teenager. Coates finally explains how getting angry at a white woman who pushed his son was dangerous and put them both at risk. This book reminds me of the privilege that was randomly bestowed on me at birth. I did not find the book to sway either optimistically or pessimistically. However, the book was very realistic, for example in its portrayal of the reservation and caution black children are forced to exude to protect themselves against racism.

  13. I found Between the World and Me neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Instead, I found it to be more of a letter full of open ended questions that invited discussion rather than answers. I don’t think that Coates’ intention was to add this kind of emotion but rather to try and explain the world his lives in. I also believe that this letter offered more of an insight into his life and perspective that is normally not discussed and masked. The point that stuck with me the most was probably when he tells his son “you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you” (p. 71). It was not until this line that I realized how true this statement is. And one could replace “black” with just about any race besides white and the statement would still hold true. This, I think, was the first sentence that stopped me from reading more. I was left with more questions than I could even attempt to answer. How is anyone supposed to be their own person when the actions of others are always identified with them? Why do we always associate the negative actions instead of positive actions? Another point that really stuck with me was when Coates went to visit the mother of Prince Jones. During their conversation she says “and one racist act. It’s all it takes” (p.145). I had never really thought about that perspective before and when she said this, I realized how true it was. Prince Jones was “raised in the lap of luxury” (p.145), almost with a stereotypically white childhood, in a white neighborhood, in a white school, with trips skiing and to Europe, but the person who shot him knew none of this. He could only see the skin color of Prince Jones. And to him, that seemed like a good enough justification. And to the people who let the shooter off with no repercussions, it was good enough for them too. And while this might seem pessimistic, I believe that Coates just tried to tell the story and attach the emotion of sadness rather than cynicism. And to me, this made the letter even more powerful and leaves the reader points to think about, even in their routine lives.

  14. Even now as I reflect on the thoughts of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I remember the page 79 due to the contents of its passage. I left this reading perplexed and contemplating many perspectives surrounding hope. Throughout the preceding pages, Coates invites the reader to form a connection with a character, thus allowing this figure’s death to form an impact and invite reflection. Coates expresses his beliefs of the murder of this character, Prince Jones, and offers insight with which I agree. I view the world at face value. I believe that we encounter issues, and I concur that we should take it upon ourselves to solve the problems at hand. This perspective coincides with Coates’ assertion with him, “believing only in this one-shot life and the body” (79), and that we must take it upon ourselves to protect our own lives. What struck me about this phrase was that he would admit to the idea that we are living organisms, made from our cells, surviving in our bodies save nothing but our own actions. He suggests that the prayers of those mourning the loss of this innocent man were sent to a void, a space that is only created by hope. Yet, there is something unsettling in my mind that hope can only create a void, an empty space merely filled with imagination. Thus, this passage allowed me to reflect upon the extent to which one can trust in faith verses their own capabilities.

  15. The thing that stuck with me the most from this book was the beginning and the descriptions of growing up in a community where there was so much violence and danger even for young children. As someone who grew up in a very protected environment it was interesting to hear the story of someone who grew up in such a different way and how that had affected their outlook on life. It is one thing to learn about redlining and housing discrimination and the policies that caused racial division in neighborhoods and cities, but it is very different seeing the way these policies have actually affected people’s lives through a first hand account and how it results in such radically difference experiences between people who are all living in the same country. The other point that really stuck with me was the Coates’s repeating fear of not having control of this body. This was especially interesting to read about for me because in one sense I felt I related, because as a woman I there is sometimes the fear of other people trying to take control of your body whether through rape culture or the debate over funding health services for women. But in another sense I knew the specific fear that Coates described was something I would never fully understand or experience as a white person. To me this was interesting because it showed the intersecting issues faced by both people of color and women but it also highlighted how each experience is unique and comes with its challenges and privileges. I didn’t necessarily find the book either completely pessimistic or optimistic. I thought it was realistic. I thought it clearly conveyed experiences and problems and events some of which were negative and upsetting and some of which were positive. I felt the book gave a clear voice to many of the problems facing our country and showed how that injustice affects and shapes the lives of so many people, but I also felt the book did a good job of showing the strength of people and the passion and diversity of American people, especially American people of color.

  16. While reading Between the World and Me, I was overcome with frustration that the important issues explored by Coates are not being widely discussed in society. Rather, they are diminished and ignored. Coates most memorably details this on page 106, when he explains that those who don’t subscribe to The Dream are viewed as, “…crazy for seeing the corruption and smelling the sulfur.” This description was poignant for me. Much of what Coates mentions has to do with the intense and frustrating powerlessness that black people are continually confronted with. The daily exertion of recognizing monumental, established, and societally accepted injustices in the world around you, but having minimal support to identify or protest these issues is unbelievably maddening. This brings up another prominent theme in Coates work- the fact that the entire system is flawed and corrupt. Rather than one person being to blame, racial injustice in the United States stems from racist historical practices that became ingrained in the minds of Americans, and then translated into policy, culture, and beliefs. When I reflect on Between the World and Me, I think most about this exact issue. Racial injustice isn’t something that is solvable in one motion. This plague is so thoroughly integrated into our daily lives. This reality paralyzed me at first, because of how irremediable it is. It is unnerving to be confronted with a problem that doesn’t have a solution. But ultimately, identifying the issue is the first step. So, although it isn’t a solution, after finishing Coates’ book, I have resolved to make an effort to talk about racial injustice in the United States. As Coates discusses, this topic is seen as taboo and controversial to mention. For this reason, it’s important that we discuss it as much as possible, and push back against the furthering of both subtle and blatant racism in our society. The fact that Between the World and Me is the first book I’ve read on the topic of racial injustice in the present day United States embarrassed me. My biggest reflection on this book is that I no longer want to promote a culture of ignorance and disregard towards racial injustice.

  17. My favorite moment in a novel is when the author chooses to reveal the meaning of the title. This moment is not simply an explanation of the diction of the title, but it enlightens the reader of the true meaning of the title and its relation to the plot and theme of the novel.

    In Coates’ novel, this revelation occurs on page 65 when the author writes, “…watching the golden-haired boys with their toy trucks and football cards, and dimly perceiving the great barrier between the works and me.” Coates’ use of the title, Between the World and Me, in this sentence allows the reader to not only gain insight into the author’s purpose for the novel, but also allows for the deeper understanding of the tangible effects of racism. Coates specifically points out the social barrier that divides people because of their skin color or status.

    Although this moment may seem insignificant in the course of the novel as a whole, it is my favorite moment to witness in a novel so it will certainly stick with me. Aside from being an enjoyable moment, the author’s use of the title in the text of the novel granted me a greater understanding of an issue that I as a white woman will never be able to understand: racism and the effects it has on a person’s life.

    While Coates’ novel may outwardly appear pessimistic to some readers because of the harsh realities that are not avoided by the author, but the overall mood seems to be fairly optimistic. Optimism is seen in the stories Coates tells of his life, such as his tales of the women he found love with in college, but also in the way that Coates encourages his son to live life with pride in himself, and with hope and forgiveness for his oppressors. The optimism seems to stand out in this novel amongst the difficult topics that are being discussed, and allows for the reader to discover a hope amongst the pain and suffering that is endured throughout the author’s and his African American community’s lives.

  18. Coates brings up many meaningful points in Between the World and Me. Many points will stick with me; however, I have found there is one point that really makes me think. The thought-provoking point is that our difference in appearance is an old truth, but the attachment of dominance to different appearances is new. Such an idea sprung from the minds of white men long ago, and the idea has shaped our world today. They decided that appearance could define a person at their core—they assigned meaning to how people look. This is mainly due to the fact that different races had different cultures. An African man and a European man have very different practices, traditions, and beliefs. When side by side, neither man can decipher the other man’s culture. Our ancestor’s ethnocentrism is what led us to racism. They simply could not understand why people from other races acted so differently, so they attributed these differences to a lack of intelligence and sense. White men saw that the main physical difference was skin color, so they proclaimed whites as superior because they lacked understanding of other races.

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