Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been hailed as “required reading” by Toni Morison and many others.


Born in 1975, Coates is the son of a former Black Panther captain. His first book, The Beautiful Struggle, details his early years growing up in West Baltimore. His remarkable second book, Between the World and Me, is one of our course textbooks. Published in 2015, it is written as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son.


  • Coates, Between the World and Me, pages 1-72


Note that this assignment and its quiz covers everything in the text  except music. Music is covered in the following assignment.

After completing this assignment, students should be able to

  • Identify the key audiovisual influences on his thinking and worldview that Coates discusses in this first section.
  • Identify the key textual influences on his thinking and worldview that Coates discusses in this first section.
  • Discuss what Coates means by “the Dream” and “the Dreamers.”
  • Summarize the parallel Coates draws between the schools and the streets.
  • Discuss the answers that Coates seems to offer to the question “Why are they showing this to us?” (32).
  • Identify “the Mecca” and discuss Coates’s reasons for giving it that name.
  • Discuss what Coates learned from the history professors at Howard University.
  • Discuss what Coates discovered about the tradition of Black intellectuals from his reading while at Howard.
  • Discuss what Coates learned from the older poets that he met while attending Howard.

Reading Guide

Note that this guide is not meant to replace careful study of the entire assigned reading. Instead, this guide highlights some of the important ideas and information in the assigned text. To do well on our tests, quizzes, and class discussions, you will need a thorough knowledge of the entire reading.

Why, specifically, did the interviewer’s questions make Coates sad? He returns to this question later (10-11).
On Nov. 24, 2014, a grand jury announced that there would be no indictment of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. Coates presents his 15-year-old son’s reaction to the news [“I’ve go to go.”] as the spark for this book. The book is framed as a letter to his  son, but of course Coates did not keep the text in the family–its intended audience is much wider.
In a key quote, Coates says “I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile” (12). This is one of the first statements of the book’s central thesis. Cf. page 34
As a boy, the family television underscored the distance between the life he knew and the Dreamworld that white children seemed to inhabit. Mr. Belvedere, a 1980s sitcom, is his shorthand for this dreamworld.
A key quote:

That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”–as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty (34).


  • Coates 1