Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me Quotes

Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spiegel & Grau edition of Between the World and Me published in 2015.
Part 1 Quotes

Son,
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Page Number: 5
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Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism––the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them-––inevitably follows from this inalterable condition.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Page Number: 7
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All our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy––serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Page Number: 10
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For so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 11
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Some time ago I rejected magic in all its forms. This rejection was a gift from your grandparents, who never tried to console me with ideas of an afterlife and were skeptical of preordained American glory. In accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, I was freed to truly consider how I wished to live––specifically, how do I live free in this black body?

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Paul Coates, Cheryl Waters
Page Number: 12
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What did it mean that number 2 pencils, conjugations without context, Pythagorean theorems, handshakes, and head nods were the difference between life and death, were the curtains drawing down between the world and me? I could not retreat, as did so many, into the church and its mysteries. My parents rejected all dogmas. We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems. We would not kneel before their God.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Paul Coates, Cheryl Waters
Page Number: 28
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The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life—love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the fire-hoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets. They seemed to love the men who raped them, the women who cursed them, love the children who spat on them, the terrorists that bombed them. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Page Number: 32
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Perhaps I too might live free. Perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X, and speak––no, act––as though my body were my own.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Malcolm X
Page Number: 37
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I was admitted to Howard University but formed and shaped by The Mecca. These institutions are related but not the same. Howard University is an institution of higher education, concerned with the LSAT, magna cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. The Mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body. The Mecca derives its power from the heritage of Howard University which in Jim Crow days enjoyed a near-monopoly on black talent.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: Howard University/The Mecca
Page Number: 40
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The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 50
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She said to me, “You take care of my daughter.” When she got out of the car, my world had shifted. I felt that I had crossed some threshold, out of the foyer of my life and into the living room. Everything that was the past seemed to be another life. There was before you, and then there was after, and in this after, you were the God I’d never had. I submitted before your needs, and I knew then that I must survive for something more than survival’s sake. I must survive for you.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates, Kenyatta Matthews
Page Number: 67
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Part 2 Quotes

I have always felt great distance from the grieving rituals of my people, and I must have felt it powerfully then. The need to forgive the officer would not have moved me, because even then, in some inchoate form, I knew that Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Prince Jones
Page Number: 78
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The entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Page Number: 99
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Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body––it is heritage.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Page Number: 103
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I have spent much of my studies searching for the right question by which I might fully understand the breach between the world and me. I have not spent my time studying the problem of “race”––“race" itself is just a re-statement and retrenchment of the problem.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Page Number: 115
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It was the briefest intimacy, but it captured much of the beauty of my black world––the ease between your mother and me, the miracle at The Mecca, the way I feel myself disappear on the streets of Harlem. To call that feeling racial is to hand over all those diamonds, fashioned by our ancestors, to the plunderer. We made that feeling, though it was forged in the shadow of the murdered, the raped, the disembodied, we made it all the same.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Kenyatta Matthews
Related Symbols: Howard University/The Mecca
Page Number: 120
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Today, when 8 percent of the world's prisoners are black men, our bodies have refinanced the Dream of being white. Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Page Number: 132
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Part 3 Quotes

Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 146
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Black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers––lost in their great reverie––feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 149
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Through the windshield I saw the mark of these ghettos––the abundance of beauty shops, churches, liquor stores, and crumbling housing––and I felt the old fear. Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Page Number: 152
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