What does the title Between the World and Me have to do with the story?

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I'm inclined to think that Coates was also influenced by the first line in W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk:

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....

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I'm inclined to think that Coates was also influenced by the first line in W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk:

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.

Coates' book is the latest in a lineage of literature that has sought to understand how Black people, particularly Black men, survive in a nation that views them, perpetually, as "a problem." The presence of Black people, in a nation that lauds itself as a bastion of freedom, is an unpleasant reminder that the freedom, liberty, and prosperity of its white citizens depended on those benefits being withheld from Black people, who existed in either a state of permanent servility or subjugation.

Coates, like DuBois, explores how white people, even well-meaning ones, are not particularly keen on discussing the real problem—how disenfranchisement and police brutality have impacted Black people's ability to enjoy full citizenship and the privileges of their white counterparts. They instead choose to view American history through a lens that reinforces their innocence and obscures their sins. Thus, the title reinforces the sense that Black people feel like outsiders, disconnected from the world that whites have created while they are also essential to its functioning.

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In addition to the wonderful response above, the title also conjures both the absence and substance that resides "between" the world and the author. Rather than an author who feels connected to the world around him, the title suggests that Coates feels a strong sense of separation. There is a gap that prevents him from being a part of the world. This is not due to any shortcoming on the part of the author. Rather, Coates is a black man living in America, and despite lip service in the form of laws and feel-good mantras about diversity, the country has yet to truly include black people and other minorities as fully equal members of society. Within the gap resides the unsaid aspects of racism that were during the Obama administration well-hidden from view. At that point in the history of the United States, many claimed that the United States was a post-racial country. However, the prevalence of hate crimes, racism, and outright violence toward minorities shows that the once invisible and unsaid has again become evident.

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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.

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