9780812993547Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book-length essay on race in America presented as a letter to his teenage son, is one of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) selections for their Social Justice Book List. Abdul Wright, the 2017 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and NNSTOY member, explains why this book was chosen:

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s portrayal of the African American story is an explicit and compellingly sincere narrative on what it means to be an African American male in American society.

The book is a letter to his Black son, and Coates is unabashed in his pride for him in this work that serves as both advice and warning to him. “The entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are,” he writes.

This rings true to so many Black men, like me, who constantly strive to figure out a place within our own lives and in this country. Coates understands this yearning, as he focuses in on how society has created superficial boxes that have existed since centuries before his birth.

Coates does an amazing job breaking down how race was created, and he points out that before Black people were subjugated, others were oppressed. In fact, he describes how this country was built on the continuous cycle of one group oppressing another. He points out metaphorically that the Irish were the Blacks before us.

The self-awareness that Coates has and the way he intellectualizes the roles of government, policy, and ideas of race provide a much-needed open letter from a wise mentor to a nation of mentees who desperately need his wisdom, approach, and insight.

At no point does he try to make the plight of Africans American more positive than the reality. This resonates with me because there is so much pain in our history that I could only understand as I grew into a Black man. And as I continue to grow, there is much I continue to learn about this nation that strives to unlock its greatest potential. While this is not a lesson on hope, this is a narrative of cultural affirmation. A true coming of age piece of literature that dives to the depth of the question, “Who am I?” A must read.

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Abdul Wright

Abdul Wright is the 2017 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, was selected as an outstanding text to teach social justice by NNSTOY, included on the organization’s Social Justice Book List.

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