Famed author Ta-Nehisi Coates has become one of the more respected voices on race in America. Coates’ writings for the Atlantic, his participation in several panels on race and culture have placed him at the forefront of a national conversation on race that has intensified over the last two years with the high-profile deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Mike Brown drawing police brutality against black people back into the spotlight. Coates released his book, Between the World and Me, back in July and serves as an unofficial sequel to The Beautiful Struggle, his 2008 memoir about his formative years in Baltimore.
With Between the World…, Coates addresses the perils of being black in America as framed through a conversation with his teenage son. Coates writes of the exhausting defensiveness that young black people embrace to protect them from an environment full of antagonism and hostility, both from authorities like the police and from peers. He criticizes the dream of suburbia, a culture that was largely created out of racism and divisiveness, as well as funded by the exploitation of undesirables–particularly black people.
“[They] have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world,” Coates writes.
Between the World and Me has drawn comparisons to James Baldwin’s essential The Fire Next Time and has also drawn criticism from those who think that Coates isn’t directly acknowledging “progress” or who feel that he’s further centering young, black cis manhood in the dialogue surrounding American racism–to the exclusion of black women and LGBTQ members of the community. Coates recently discussed his book during an interview at the Schomburg Center For Black Research in Harlem and said that he only seeks to be honest in the hopes of furthering this conversation.
“You would talk to folks and they would be aware of certain truths and you could feel them pulling their punches. I think that’s disrespectful to white people. I don’t see how you are respecting folks by not speaking truthfully and from the heart. I don’t personalize stuff, but the history is what the history is. But it’s disrespectful to white people to soften the history or talk to them like they’re three years old. If I go hear a lecture on feminism or LGBT rights, I don’t want you to soften it for me,” he said.