Between the World and Me Questions and Answers

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Where does the title of Between the World and Me come from?

Ta-Nehisi Coates borrowed the title of his memoir from the poem “Between the World and Me" by influential black author Richard Wright, who was born in Mississippi and later became a French citizen. The poem recounts the speaker’s experience of coming across the remains of a lynching while walking in the woods. Wright writes, “And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me. . . .” Coates includes the poem’s first stanza as an epigraph to his memoir.

What is the setting of Between the World and Me?

Between the World and Me is set in Baltimore, Maryland, where Ta-Nehisi Coates grew up; Washington, D.C., where Coates attended Howard University; Prince George’s (PG) County, Maryland, where Coates and his wife moved after the birth of their son; Chicago, Illinois, where Coates’s wife grew up; New York City, where Coates and his family moved shortly before September 11, 2001, and where Coates established his writing career; and Paris, France, where Coates and his wife and son later moved together.

What is The Mecca?

“The Mecca” is what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls Howard University—or, more specifically, the diverse community and culture he found at Howard—in Between the World and Me. Howard is considered the greatest historically black university in the United States and has been attended and taught at by an incredibly impressive array of black writers, artists, and scholars. After falling in love with Kenyatta Matthews, who would become his partner (later his wife) and Samori’s mother, Coates decided to leave Howard and pursue journalism, declaring himself “a graduate of The Mecca, if not the university.”

Who is Mable Jones?

Dr. Mable Jones is the mother of Prince Jones, a friend and Howard University classmate of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s who was killed by a Prince George's County police officer. Coates goes to visit Dr. Jones at her home near Philadelphia in Part III. He learns that she is a successful radiologist who grew up in poverty and worked hard to give her children better lives, and he describes her as powerful, polite, strong, and reserved.

What does Ta-Nehisi Coates say about race and racism in Between the World and Me?

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates says that, contrary to popular belief, the phenomenon of racism does not derive from race; rather, the idea of race derives from racism. Coates believes that “the people who believe they are white” need the concept of race—and a set of racist beliefs about black people people and other people of color—in order to maintain the exclusionary concept of whiteness and the power and privilege that go along with being included in it.