An analytical essay of contingencies in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel Between the World and Me




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An analytical essay of contingencies in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel Between the World and Me.One of the thorny issues in the American society has been racism especially on the black Americans. Racism in America can be traced back to the times of slavery when people of the African origin were used as slaves by their white counterparts. Many authors have tried to address this issue for many centuries now although it seems not to be going away any time soon. Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book, ‘Between the world and Me,’ tries to address what it means to be black in the American society. The author has drafted the book in the form of a letter from him as a father to his son, Samori, addressing the various issues that black people have to deal with on a daily basis when in the American society. Coates does not shy away from addressing and trying to highlight the various dangers and stresses that black men have to face. He does this through the narration of his own experiences as a black man to highlight the ills the American society is committing to the black men.

Coates uses the book to remind his son of what he should expect as a black young man growing up in the American society that does not respect people. Through the narration of his own experiences and those of his fellow blacks, he is writing the ‘letter’ to explain to his young son the contingencies that he is likely to face in the near future. The first contingency that he informs his son of is the continued police brutality to the black men. He quotes the killing of Michael Brown and how his killers were not punished for the crime. He writes, ‘That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free.’ This phrase illustrates how Coates feels that the American society does not provide justice for all. It highlights that the lost lives of innocent black lives has been neglected and his son should expect the trend to continue and he does not expect it to go away soon.

In the book, Coates highlights how the American society does not care about the lives of the black people. He believes that this situation will continue and his son should expect to live in a society where his life would be less valued. To illustrate how the evil of the killing of innocent black men hurts him so much, he does not comfort his soon that the situation would change soon. He says, ‘didn’t hug you… comfort you, because he thought it would be wrong to comfort you. He did not tell you that it would be okay, because he had never believed it would be okay.’ The words illustrate the despair that Coates had in the pursuit for justice for black people in the American society. He could not even promise his son that such contingencies would be addressed in the future but he rather chooses to inform the son of these injustices. Coates was in fact trying to explain to his son that he should be prepared to live within a society that could be unfair to him and does not value his life.

Coates informs his son to be ready to bear the sins of his fellow black people as part of the contingencies in the American society. This illustrates the nature of the American society that is ready to condemn the black race in totality without having to look at each black person’s individual capacity. He warns his son, ‘You must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which somehow will always be assigned to you.’ This quote highlights the various stereotypes that exist in the American society that his son will definitely face while growing up. There is the misconception generally among many whites that the young black men are generally hostile and violent.

Coates illustrates the fair of most Black American parents of their sons and daughters having to face profiling and even death. The increased profiling of black men as brutal and criminal has led to many of them losing their lives on the hands of people who are supposed to protect them. The author seems that tell his son that he has to live with the reality that the police who should protect him could be his biggest enemy. Create tells this by reflecting on an incidence about Prince Jones who was a university student at Howard University. Prince was shot by an undercover police in Maryland in 2000.

Coates tries to explain to his son and the general public the mentality of those who propagate racism and are biased towards black people. They are not always ready to face the facts and distinguish black people who are criminals and law abiding citizens. He explains to his son that the perpetuators of racism will only use his skin color to label him a criminal. He explains the origin of the notion that black people are associated with criminal activities has part of the American society’s bias to black people. During the formation stages of the American society, many black people were not given access to human rights as the whites were. This is because the black race was considered primitive, criminal and less of human beings. Coates tells his son that this notion continued to manifest itself in the modern American society where although the constitution provides equal rights to all, still the black race has been marginalized and faces the challenge of biased collective condemnation.

Coates also promises his son that he would meet people who consider themselves white but they are black as part of the contingencies of growing as a black man. He uses the phrase, ‘People who believe they are white’ to illustrate how many people in the American society are trying to associate with being white due to stereotyping. Coates successfully tries to expand this notion by suggesting that if the society would stop teaching lies about the skin color being reason to segregate Americans. Coates seems to suggest to his son to be willing to live with people who might be black but believe they are white due to the notion of white supremacy. He writes, ‘…but some of these straight-haired people with blue eyes have been ‘black’….’ He further suggests that the Virginia planters are responsible for the notion that the whites are supreme over blacks. This suggestion can be traced back to the times of slavery when the blacks were used as slaves to provide cheap labor in the white farmers’ plantations. This cemented the notion of white supremacy as people tried to be whites so that not to be considered to be slaves.

Coates uses the book to help his son understand what black people are in the American society. By reflecting of the contingencies that he had to face as a black adolescent in West Baltimore, his live experiences as a student at the University of Howard and as a writer and parent, he is exploring what being black means. Coates explains this in the form of a letter to his son illustrating the many challenges that he has to bear with while in the different stages of life. Coates seems to explain to his son and in general the reader of the book that racial discrimination is not limited to a certain aspect of the American society.

Through the narration of his own experiences, Coates is able to highlight to the general audience that racism manifest itself in every aspect of the American society including childhood, education, parenthood and occupation. These experiences portray the rich history of bias towards black people in the American society and how race has been used to create social hierarchy in America. Through his narrations, Coates is able to narrate the race tension that manifests itself in the American society and creates a picture to Samori on what he can expect as a young black man. Creates seems to explain to his son that as long as the American society continues to be biased to black people, nobody will be safe including Samori himself as he faces many contingencies. Considering what Create is explaining to his son and the recent racial profiling across the United States, it seems to be a perfect explanation of the current state of affairs in terms of racial discrimination and the profiling of black people.

The book ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects the sentiments of the ordinary black person living in the American society. It spans over a long time of the American society and tries to explain the origin of bias against the black people and accesses the state of affairs over the years. In the recent years, racial profiling has been on the rise and many innocent black people have been profiling based on their skin color. There are many cases where the police have been reported to be biased towards black young men. Police brutality on black communities is on the rise and it seems that nobody is concerned to address this issue. The government has not taken steps to address the police brutality on blacks. The state of affairs seems to leave no hope on the young black people who have to grow in a society that does not value them and tries to consider them as inferior to those with white skins. The book is an awakening call for every American to stand up for black people and ensure that the historical issue of racism is addressing for a better society.


Alexander, Michelle. “Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me.’.” New York Times 17 (2015).Bernard, E. “Between the world and me: Black American motherhood.” The Atlantic Monthly (2015).Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the world and me. Text publishing, 2015.