5 Quotes from Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me to meditate on.


Ta-Nehisi Coates photographed here for Playboy magazine

“I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, who excels at dress-making and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and as capable as anyone.”


“‘Black-on-Black’ crime is jargon, violence to language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates photographed here by Sebastian Kim

"Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance — no matter how improved — as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children."



“Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains — whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.


You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance — no matter how improved — as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this. Perhaps our triumphs are not even the point.”

“The way I feel myself disappear on the streets of Harlem…We made that feeling, though it was forged in the shadow of the murdered, the raped, the disembodied, we made it all the same. This is the beautiful thing that I have seen with my own eyes, and I think I needed this vantage point before I could journey out. I think I needed to know that I was from somewhere, that my home was as beautiful as any other.

The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ This is a broad exoneration.

“What any institution, or its agents, “intend” for you is secondary. Our world is physical. Learn to play defense — ignore the heed to keep your eyes on the body. Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream. Noone directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ This is a broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”



-Ta-Nehisi Coates in the long letter to his black son, Between the World and me.

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