2016 Common Read

The University of Michigan-Flint Common Read Committee has selected Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, as the 2016-2017 Common Read text. It won the National Book Award for non-fiction in November 2015 and has been widely read and discussed. In the form of a letter to his 14-year-old son Samori, Coates reflects on race and racism in the U.S., often in tones of despair and anger, emphasizing the vulnerability and violation of black bodies throughout U.S. history. He also stresses the importance of asking and wrestling with key questions, the deep satisfactions of reading, learning, and honest writing, and the value of close relationships and the diasporic African community. 

“Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature. . . But race is the child of racism, not the father.  . . The belief in the pre-eminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white” (p. 7).

“You were born that August. I thought of the great spectrum [of black people at Howard University]—black people from Belize, black people with Jewish mothers, black people with fathers from Bangalore, black people from Toronto and Kingston, black people who spoke Russian, who spoke Spanish, who played Mongo Santamaria, who understood mathematics and sat up in bone labs, unearthing the mysteries of the enslaved. There was more out there than I had ever hoped for, and I wanted you to have it. I wanted you to know that the world in its entirety could never be found in the schools, alone, nor on the streets, alone, nor in the trophy case. I wanted you to claim the whole world, as it is.  .  We are, as Derrick Bell once wrote, the “faces at the bottom of the well.” But there really is wisdom down here, and that wisdom accounts for much of the good in my life. And my life down here accounts for you” (pp. 67-68).

—Ta-Nehisi Coates