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  • Ella Gammel

Why You Should Read Between the World and Me - Now

“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world”

- Tah-Nehisi Coates

If you are active in politics, the term reparations should sound familiar to you. Maybe the name Ta-Nehisi Coates does, too. This is because Coates, an author and journalist, stirred the political plank pot in 2014 with his essay The Case for Reparations, presenting an iron-strong argument for the moral and practical necessity of reparations for slavery in America. Coates describes the effects of redlining and housing discrimination from the eyes of the affected. It is a must-read, and a fitting political companion for Coates’ soon-after published book, Between the World and Me.

Coates’ work is a letter from Coates to his son addressing his experiences-struggle, wonder, and deep frustration- being a Black man in America. Coates writes with the language of a poet and the power of someone who knows exactly what story must be told.

UMD attempts to incorporate this same conversation about race into our classrooms with GenEd requirements like Plural Societies and Cultural Competence. Most of you reading this will be no stranger to classroom discussions on systemic racism; I’m certainly not. (The Case for Reparations was assigned reading for my ENGL301 class!) However, if that discussion isn’t done correctly, it can dull to something repetitive and composed only of hot-button words, only required for class. The modern, very real effects of slavery are here, and they don’t just need to be talked about; they need to be talked about effectively.

And no one is talking about it quite like Coates.

Take, for example, a repeating motif he carries throughout the 150-page book: the Black body. Specifically, the pillaging of the Black body. Coates explains slavery as pillaging of the black body and police brutality as an extension. The way Coates molds this concept adds nuance with each repetition, incorporating religion (and his lack thereof) and personal tragedy so that the final concept is something so packed it is almost entirely new.

Coates tells stories of his first loves, his academic awakening at Howard University, and his various missed opportunities, all through the poignant lens of a lesson to teach his son. Between the World and Me feels like reading a heartbeat. This book should be on your shelf because it questions. It pokes at the fundamentals of what it means to be an American, and argues that the American Dream is built from the enslavement of African people. It is a one of a kind book that manages to completely unroot many of the notions we are told to unquestioningly believe as Americans.

Coates does not just invite but demand we act as conscious citizens, that we wake up from the American Dream. His work is essential because it affects all of us as Americans and forces upon us a clarity we are encouraged never to see.


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