“Between the World and Me” – Book Review

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“Between the World and Me” is a 2015 book by Ta- Nehisi Coates. In his book, Coates narrates through a letter dedicated to his 15 years old son Samori about the history of black struggle in America using his past experiences while growing up as a black kid. He discusses widely the horror of being black in America despite it been recognized as the most mature democracy in the world. He talks about white supremacy and the oppression that black men and women have to endure every day in their life to survive.

Coates has used many themes and concepts in his book that led to the development of an identity. Major concepts used to develop an identity in the book are race, tradition, and colonialism. In the following discussion, we shall look at how these concepts have contributed to identity construction in the book.

The theme of race is one of the major concepts used by Coates in identity development in his letter to his son. Coates has discussed extensively the issue of discrimination against black people which has contributed significantly to the suffering in society. Coates views racism as a creation of the society by the people who consider themselves superior to others.

Through past generations, white people have positioned themselves at the top of the hierarchy by considering their skin color to be superior compared to that of other people. The idea of race in society comes from the categorization of people based on their appearances in terms of the color of their skin and hair.

The concept of racism has been able to spread and grow due to the continued discrimination and ill-treatment of black people since slavery and colonialism times. Coates claims that the fulfillment of our national hopes will be hard to achieve if we don’t erase the idea of categorizing people according to their race in society. This theme shows the ill-treatment of the black people in America through the slavery days up to the present day, where we have police brutality on the black race.

Black bodies are viewed as disposable and treated as objects whose value is in the ability to make a profit for the white people. There is no evidence that the idea of creating an identity through race will disappear someday, or it will evolve to something elsewhere; the color of our skin does not judge us.


Another concept used in the development of identity is colonialism. Colonialism came up as a result of the race, whereby one would consider itself superior to other races. Colonialism and slavery have led to the historical oppression of black people. Coates narrates about the issue of the black body at the beginning of the letter to his son.

Coates explains how black bodies have endured beatings, enslavement, rape, and imprisonment by white oppressors during colonial times. During the American civil war, white people had attached a price tag on the bodies of their black servants whom they used for labor purposes in plantations. They were merely objects owned by white colonialists and were disposable at any given time so long as they had served their purpose of creating wealth.

Black people’s bodies were worth four billion dollars during civil war times. Black bodies are at the risk of being destroyed through modern slavery and oppression. Coates disregards Abraham Lincoln’s famous statement declaring a government for the people by saying that the word people didn’t include those considered to be black. Coates has blamed society for its continued violation of the rights and democratic values of black people as the main cause of slavery and oppression being witnessed. Colonialism has contributed enormously to the development of identity in society.

From Coates’s letter, we also see the role played by tradition in the development of identity. Coates claims that its traditional to destroy the black body in America. He wants to remind his son that the destruction of black bodies through discrimination and abuse is still present even today. The tradition of discrimination against black people continues to persist due to peoples’ ignorance of the injustices in society.

Black bodies keep on been targeted and threatened by police officers in their black neighborhoods. As a kid growing up in the streets of Baltimore, Coates witnessed many instances of police brutality and the killing of innocent black people. The white people still do not want to treat black people as their equals despite the milestones that have been achieved in modern society when it comes to racism. Black people also face discriminatory laws to ensure unfair playing grounds.

Traditionally the blacks have been segregated to living in bad neighborhoods and have poor access to social amenities. Coates explains all these injustices against black people to his son to make sure that he doesn’t develop ignorance of these facts facing the black people as a race.

As observed in our discussion above, the concepts of race, colonialism, and tradition in the book “Between the World and Me” play a significant role in the development of identity. Coates demonstrates how the idea of race was created through the categorization of people according to their appearance by white people. Colonialism, on the other hand, led to slavery, which put price tags on black bodies during the civil war times.


Finally, through tradition Coates wants his son to know that the destruction of black bodies through discrimination will always exist, provided that people continue to ignore the injustices in society. Although he can’t shield his son from the black struggle in America, Coates would like him to be conscious of these facts as he deals with the hardships facing black people.


Cite this paper

“Between the World and Me” – Book Review. (2020, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/between-the-world-and-me-book-review/

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