Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is based on a letter that the author sent to his son; named Samori to explain what it meant to be a black man. The book presents the hardships faced by African American men through the eyes of the author.
Between the World and Me Summary: Plot Overview
The book begins with Coates addressing it to Samori, his son. He begins by describing a moment in time where he was speaking on a certain talk show, and they asked him to illustrate what it meant to lose one’s body. He then reflects on how the progress of white American has been furthered through the oppression and exploitation of black Americans. Coates reveals that even though the Americans glorify Democracy, the country has never really been democratic. During President’s Lincoln’s time, he declared that the United States would be under the rule of by the people’s government, but the African Americans had been left out in this category.
Coates explores the racist murders of African Americans such as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Renisha Mcbride. He reveals that the murders of these individuals prove that the destruction of the bodies of black people is a component of the American dream and has become part of society’s fabric. Even though the Dream is innocent and only aims to pursue happiness and success, it is bound to the violence of African Americans. Hence, Black Americans have had to live in a constant fear knowing that they may encounter violence at any time.
Coates witnessed much violence while he was a youth. The people he grew up around claimed to own certain streets, but the reality was that everything around them was out of their control.
The streets were always a threat to Coates in his youth, but the education system did even more to constrict black people. The schools Coates attended sought to discipline the black student instead of guiding them to growth. Religion was also not a place for Coates to turn to as his parents taught him not to trust the church. Paul, Coates’ father, was a former captain of Black Panther Party, but he currently works as a Howard University librarian. Coates indicates that he preferred the strategy by Malcolm X and the Panthers to resistance without violence, which was divinized in schools.
Coates graduated from school and went on to join Howard, to which he refers to as his Mecca. The diversity of the student population is surprising to him. At Howard, he comes to realize that the racial categories were too expansive to represent the divide between individuals properly. He delves into the black culture and explores the history of African Americans. He comes across several contradictions between the arguments of the different black intellectuals. He explores the area of Washington DC and even attends a few open mics and poetry recitations, and here he meets some young writers. Coates encounters some instances of love with three women who challenged his knowledge of his culture and about African Americans. The last of the three women is named Kenyatta Mathews. Coates is 24 when Kenyatta gets pregnant with their son, whom they name Samori. The name was derived from the Guinea freedom fighter Samori Toure who provided resistance against colonization by the French and ended up dying in prison.
Sometime after their son is born, Prince Jones, one of their Howard classmates gets killed by County police. Kenyatta and Coates attend the memorial of their classmate. During the memorial service, forgiveness and faith are emphasized, and this makes Coates feel alienated. Later on, Coates comes to learn that the officer responsible for Prince’s death was dishonest and had escaped reprimanding for previous mistakes. On the other hand, Prince was a good, kind, loving, and religious person. The fact that he had to die makes Coates believe that racism cannot be escaped.
Cotes and his family relocated to New York in 2011 where he feels out of place. He remembers an encounter he had with white people who threatened to have him arrested for defending his son. He claims responsibility to teach his son the whole truth about the world they lived in, and although he cannot assure Samori that all will be well, he will ensure that Samori knows to face the world in its true nature.
Coates finds himself in Chicago following his journalistic dreams, and later on, he takes a trip to France, Paris. One day he visits Dr. Mabel, Prince’s mother, and he learns about her journey to where she was. Dr. Mabel reveals the intense pain of losing her son in Howard even though she wanted him to go to Harvard or any other Ivy League university. She leaves Coates with the remarks that one act of racism can be all it takes to undo what black people have achieved.
Coates hopes that the injustice and atrocities of the world will be revealed to dreamers. He is in worry about the future. As he drives home from Dr. Mabel’s house, he passes through the Chicago ghettoes, and the fear he lived within his childhood becomes slowly triggered in him.