Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Year of publication
When I read it
September 2015
What I thought

A must-read (especially if you’re looking to cry on the Subway)

Choice Highlights

Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it. But this banality of violence can never excuse America, because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization.

[T]he laws of the schools were aimed at something distant and vague. What did it mean to, as our elders told us, “grow up and be somebody”? And what precisely did this have to do with an education rendered as rote discipline?

The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.

What I remember is my ignorance. I remember watching her eat with her hands and feeling wholly uncivilized with my fork. I remember wondering why she wore so many scarves. I remember her going to India for spring break and returning with a bindi on her head and photos of her smiling Indian cousins. I told her, “Nigga, you black” because that’s all I had back then.

He was born-again, a state I did not share but respected.

Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.

Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free.

The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority.

I would walk through the West Village, marveling at restaurants the size of living rooms, and I could see that the very smallness of these restaurants awarded the patrons a kind of erudite cool, as though they were laughing at a joke, and it would take the rest of the world a decade to catch on.

You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.

His manner was like all the powerless black people I’d ever known, exaggerating their bodies to conceal a fundamental plunder that they could not prevent.

To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.

It recalled New York, but without the low-grade, ever-present fear.

She appeared to be somewhere in that range between forty and seventy years, when it becomes difficult to precisely ascertain a black person’s precise age.