The Letter I Wish I Had the Courage to Write to My Son – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My latest read by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”, has been haunting my mind since I turned the last page. Yes, I finished this book a few days ago, and I promised my readers a review ASAP, but I had to let this one marinate for a minute while I got myself back together.
“Between the World and Me” may arguably be one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. It’s a non-fiction book, so it’s not a tale of a far off land with a protagonist that goes on a journey and lives happily ever after. This masterfully written book is a letter from Coates to his son, and in my heart, is a letter from all the Black parents to their children. What moved me so much is that this heartfelt 176-page letter contains everything I want my son to know about the world that he was born into, but lack the courage to be so honest and truthful. This is a feeling I’m sure many Black parents have towards their children, fearful of taking away their innocence by opening their eyes to the world we live in.
Coates displayed an immeasurable amount of courage throughout the entire book for his honesty and candor. He openly spoke about his experiences as a young man and expressed his thoughts and emotions that break the cycle of Black parents, especially fathers, withholding vulnerability from their children. At the same time, Coates also conveyed a message of love, tenderness, and warm parental urging for his son to live a full life, despite whatever challenges may arise as he grows.
Ta-Nehisi Coates also demonstrated his expertise in the area of Black culture, art, and literature and shared the names of many prolific Black authors, philosophers, and activists. An alum of Howard University, Coates described the prestigious HBCU as the Mecca for Black culture, painting a vivid and beautiful picture of the Diaspora of African descendants at the Mecca and how connected we all are in our shared struggles.
Coates also described his life growing up and, as a youth, didn’t understand why his parents would tell him certain things or discipline him a certain way. After a life-altering experience, he was awakened to the fact that his “body” and all Black bodies in America since our arrival in this country are treated as a commodity – America’s greatest commodity. From that point on, he witnessed how power and a sense of ownership have been and continue to be exerted over our bodies. Coates explained to his son how to reclaim control over his body and how to live a full and meaningful life.
“You have to work twice as hard to get half of what ‘they’ have.” This is something my grandparents told my parents what they told me, and what I tell my son and what I planned on continuing to say to him throughout his life. But I haven’t prepared myself for the day he asks, “why?” and “who’s ‘they’?”. Partially because I never asked my parents, I just accepted the fact that this what the primary lesson in my upbringing: work hard and always be your best. When I found out that I was having a son, a Black and Latino son, it all became clear. This message comes from a place of fear. Fear of what? The same fear that manifested itself when Trayvon Martin was murdered for just being a Black boy and when Jordan Davis was murdered for playing his music too loud as most teens do. Coates hit the nail on the head in “Between the World and Me,” explaining the genuine fear of Black parents and the real message we drive into our children: you have to work harder than others and behave better than others because ‘they’ can take your body.
As parents, we sometimes act out of fear. Coates mentioned his father used to discipline him physically, something many of us experienced ourselves. And in cases like Coates and many others, this discipline came from a place of fear, fear that if it wasn’t the parent, it could be a police officer. My act of fear? Moving out of my hometown to a suburb where my son can have a chance at getting a quality education, and while he will experience his own adversity for being different, I hope that he is in an environment where he can grow and thrive and have his best chance at success.
“Between the World and Me,” however, is not an act of fear. It is an act of love, and as Dr. Maya Angelou said, “courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” Ta-Nehisi Coates was courageous in this loving letter to his son, a quality I admire and hope that I can display when raising my son.
“Between the World and Me” moved my mind and spirit and has empowered me to display the same courage as Coates while guiding my son in this world. This book is a must-read for parents and non-parents alike, and I look forward to reading more works by Ta-Nehisi Coates.