What is the significance of the title of Between the World and Me?

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As the previous educator mentions, the title of the memoir comes from a poem by Richard Wright, a black protest writer who published mostly during the 1930s and 1940s. However, the title is also reminiscent of the first line of the first chapter of W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black...

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As the previous educator mentions, the title of the memoir comes from a poem by Richard Wright, a black protest writer who published mostly during the 1930s and 1940s. However, the title is also reminiscent of the first line of the first chapter of W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk. In the first chapter, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," DuBois writes the following passage:

BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

DuBois later characterizes the barrier between himself and "the other world," presumably, the white one, as a veil. He describes it as being born covered in "a caul," which is a metaphor for his blackness. It is a barrier, albeit very thin, which obscures him, for all others seem to see is the "veil," or what makes him different—not his humanity.

Coates also addresses this problem about being black in America, particularly in the context of the murder of his friend, Prince Jones, at the hands of the police. Jones's murder, which occurred around the time of the September 11th attacks, pierced through any faith Coates may have had in the United States offering Jones and other black people the same degree of humanity that it conferred to victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Like DuBois, Coates copes with being an object of political and economic contention and with having to contend with a nation that does not see black people beyond its own racist constructions.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates took the title of his memoir from the poem “Between the World and Me” by Richard Wright, an influential black author who was born in Mississippi and later became a French citizen. “Between the World and Me” first appeared in the Partisan Review in 1935 and was later included in Wright’s 1957 book White Man, Listen! among several other collections. Coates also uses the first stanza of the poem as the epigraph to his memoir:

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,

Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms

And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me....

The scene the speaker describes is the aftermath of a lynching. Gripped first by pity and then by fear, the speaker imagines how the terrible event must have unfolded, putting himself in the place of the murdered man.

Like Wright’s poem, Coates’s memoir deals with the United States’ history of racist violence. Coates describes how this violence, which began with slavery, now takes the form of police brutality, mass incarceration, gentrification, red-lining, and everyday instances of racism perpetrated by individuals and perpetuated by official policies. Wright’s speaker imagines his “black wet body” being tied to the tree where the lynching took place, and Coates notes the fragility of his own body in a society where the theft, exploitation, and destruction of black bodies is “traditional.”

In the poem “Between the World and Me,” the speaker is reminded by the remains of the lynching of the constant threat of bodily destruction that surrounds him. In the memoir Between the World and Me, Coates attempts to help his teenage son, Samori, come to terms with the fact that, nearly a century later, this threat remains ever-present.

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