What does the title Between the World and Me have to do with the story?
Between the World and Me is named for a poem by Richard Wright, "Between the World and Me." The epigraph to Coates's memoir is the first stanza of this poem, in which the speaker describes their encounter with the abandoned scene of a lynching in the woods. This stanza ends, “And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me. . . .”
The speaker is shocked and then deeply saddened by the image he has stumbled upon, imagining the horror of the events that occurred in this place and the human being that experienced them.
By using this title and the first stanza to begin his memoir, Coates brings about an image of black suffering. His book serves to illustrate that these horrors are far from gone from American society. By painting an unfortunately realistic picture of racist violence in the United States, from the institution of slavery to the ever-present reality of police brutality, Coates explains how inhabiting a black body in the United States is to be in a constant state of danger. He does this in an incredibly truthful and genuinely fearful letter to his son, compelling him to understand his vulnerability and how it relates to the world in which he lives.