Through Coates’ powerful, lyrical prose – written as a letter to his 15-year-old son – he recalls his experience growing up and living as a black man in America and presents an unapologetic analysis of racial injustice. It’s impossible, in reading this, not to feel his anger, his frustration, his fear, and his grief.
What is especially fascinating, to me, is Coates’ shameless atheism and how it is an essential part of who he is and the experiences that have shaped him. His underlying focus, throughout this book, is the destruction of black bodies throughout history and the grave need that black people have to protect their bodies and bear responsibility for their bodies in ways that many will never understand. “In America,” he writes, “it is traditional to destroy the black body. It is heritage.”
To quote a New York Magazine profile on Coates:
“The heavy force in Between the World and Me — what makes it both unique and bleak — is his atheism. It gives Coates’s writing urgency. To consider the African-American experience without the language of souls and destiny is to strip it of euphemism, and to make the security of African-American bodies even more crucial.”
Atheist undertones aside, Between the World and Me is a profoundly moving book that compels its readers to face harsh truths about the country in which we live, about the racial injustices that formed its history and that persist today in spite of the placating lies that many tell themselves about these injustices being a thing of the past.