Between the World and Me discussion questions

Discussion Questions by Alexis Elafros

1. Why did Coates use manhood as an overlying theme? Would it have been less, equally,
or more effective for him to incorporate the black female struggle as well into this

2. Can this book also be seen as a plea for education reform? When Coates says that “the
schools were not concerned with curiosity,” but rather with “compliance,” what
does that tell us about how the educational institution in America perpetuates
racial injustice?

3. Rather than categorizing people as either good or bad in two distinct categories, it is
clear that Coates speaks of humans as having pure and dark intentions and actions
simultaneously. It is not the bad white people vs the good black people. That
being said, how does Coates speak of humanity and its complexities? Give

4. Coates refers to the word “people” as a political term and frequently references white
people as those who “believe themselves white.” What can this kind of
dissociation from race do as the United States progresses? Moving forward, how
can reminding people that race is purely a social construct aid in this fight?

5. Throughout the reading, there is a very clear theme of disembodiment as he discusses
the “system that makes your body breakable” (pg 18). He also, however, says that
“our bodies are ourselves, that (his) soul is the voltage conducted through neurons
and nerves, and that (his) spirit is (his) flesh” (pg 79). What does this mean for the
black community as a whole? When he references bodies being broken, is he
really referencing the souls and spirits of the black community being crushed by
the American social structure?

6. What are the different aspects of the American Dream, or “the Dream,” as Coates calls
it, that are discussed in this literature? How are they problematic?

7. On pg. 78, Coates speaks of the recent talk about “diversity, sensitivity training, and
body cameras.” He says that “these are all fine and applicable, but that (they)
understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is
real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to
protect them.” If speaking about diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras
allows the American people to dissociate racism from themselves, what is it that
we should be discussing? How can we make the American people face the racial
injustices and prejudices that still exist?

8. Coates says that he not only cannot tell his son it is going to be okay, he cannot even
tell him that it might be okay. “The struggle is really all I have for you,” he tells
his son, “because it is the only portion of this world under your control.” That
being said, in general, is this text hopeful? Or is it pessimistic?

9. What does Coates want us to learn from this text? What should be our primary takeaway?

10. Is it insightful/realistic that he does not offer answers to the problems discussed,
or is it just bleak and unhelpful?

11. Again, is his lack of religiosity dangerous/bleak, or is it refreshing for a
generation that is increasingly less theological? Does this text mark a transition
from the “cultural milieu of organized black church” to “a black politics without
churchiness” (Cottom, 2015)?

Cottom, T. (2015, August 3). "Between the World and Me" Book Club: Not Trying to
Get Into Heaven. Retrieved September 9, 2015.

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