fear in Ta-Nehisi Coatesí new book is pervasive. It
almost perceptibly coats the pages and clings to the
Baltimore-born Coates fears for himself, as a black man
living in America in 2015. Heís afraid for his
15-year-old son, Samori. And heís terrified because
thereís no guarantee of safety and security for even
those educated, successful, well-to-do black people who
follow societyís rules. Thereís no guarantee even
for someone like him, an award-winning author who has
been anointed as the intellectual heir to James Baldwin
by none other than Nobel Prize-winning author Toni
dread was evident during a recent telephone conversation
with the author, and during the national launch of
Coatesí new book, "Between the World and
a recent launch event, Coates, 39, read a chapter about
his meeting with Mable Jones, a Philadelphia radiologist
whose son, Prince, was fatally shot in 2000 by an
undercover Princes Georgeís County police officer. The
officer claimed that the unarmed man ó the authorís
friend and former classmate at Howard University ó had
tried to run him over.
son was a month old at that point, and I couldnít
distance myself from what Prince had done," Coates
said. "If Iíd been followed through three
jurisdictions by someone who didnít identify himself
as a police officer, by someone who was dressed as a
criminal and by someone who pointed a gun at me, I might
have done just what he did. Itís very, very easy for
me to see how I could have been killed that day."
the World and Me," which is written in the form of
an open letter to Samori, is a 152-page meditation on
the nature of violence against African-Americans, which
Coates sees as a systematic and deliberate attempt to
destroy black bodies.
is an edited synopsis of remarks that Coates made at his
book launch and during the interview:
What message were you trying to communicate to America
by writing this book?
I was really thinking of a black audience. I wanted to
say to the community: "I see your pain, and youíre
not crazy." Thereís racism, and then thereís
the mind tricks people play on you by telling you that
the racism isnít real.
Reading the book, I got the feeling that you think of
the world as occupying two camps: "us" and
"them." I think the fear you so eloquently
describe would also be familiar to some folks who arenít
black ó women, gay people and senior citizens, among
What Iím against is race supremacy and all of its
flaws. Iím not against any one group of people.
a question of power. A woman could have written the same
book about men and made the same arguments. The system
is larger than all of us, and even those of us men who
donít want to be involved in the system are involved.
point Iím making in the book is that the whole notion
of race, of whiteness and blackness, canít be divorced
from the notion of power.
The following passage in the book gave me pause, and Iím
wondering if you wished youíd softened it. You were
living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and you write:
could see no difference between the officer who killed
Prince Jones and the police who died, or the
firefighters who died. They were not human to me. Black,
white or whatever; they were the menaces of nature; they
were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could, with
no justification, shatter my body."
No, I wouldnít soften it. That was a state of my raw
emotion at that time. Later, I came to grips with the
fact that each of the folks who died were individual
humans with likes, dislikes, hates, loves, etc., and I
was able to grieve for them.
Didnít you get pushback from President Obama about a
blog item you wrote in which you characterized him as
believing that black people are the agents of their own
Heís part of a strong strain in the black community
that thinks that personal responsibility and virtue is a
way out of our problems.
donít think greater personal responsibility is the
answer. Black people are already plenty responsible. In
Charleston, people forgave the gunman who came into
their church and murdered their relatives in cold blood.
I donít see how anyone could be any more responsible
Where do we go from here?
I think you have to understand that the history of
enslavement in this country is older than America
itself. Itís older than emancipation. We have a large
task in front of us, and it probably wonít get
completed in our lifetimes. Hopefully, in three, four or
five generations we will see a world that has purged
itself of racism.
for now, we can do one very basic and tangible thing. We
have to stop arresting people just because they see a
police officer and run.