Augie Reads 2018: Web Resources
Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me describes parts of Coates’s childhood in Baltimore in the 1980s, and 90s and his experiences at Howard University. He made a name for himself as a journalist, especially at The Atlantic, and his writing earned him a MacArthur grant in 2015. He is now adding to his nonfiction writing by writing Black Panther and Captain America comics for Marvel.
Coates’s most recent book, We Were Eight Years in Power, a collection of essays he wrote in the Atlantic from 2008-2016 was also a best seller. This CBS News video and article tells the story of Coates’s life, from his childhood in Baltimore to his career as a writer, and discusses his ideas about how race and racism impact the United states.
Coates often mixes historical research with modern reporting to better understand how past and present connect. In this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jordan Michael Smith talks to Coates and to history professors about how historians have had an impact on his work, as well as their many opinions of it.
In 2015, Coates was offered the chance to write an 11-issue series of Black Panther, the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics in 1966. In this interview for National Public Radio, Coates talks about the complexity of T'Challa's character, how Black Panther has often been in the background of comics since his first appearance, and the importance of representation in comics.
After the success of Black Panther, Coates has decided to try his hand with writing a Captain America series. In this article, Coates talks about the challenges that come with writing comics and his fears and excitement with entering Captain America’s world.
Howard University & HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)
Coates’s experience at Howard University, a historically black university, affected his learning academically, socially, and politically. Consider how these resources on Howard and HBCUs compare to Coates’s description of “the Mecca” and the different ways college has an impact on people inside and outside of the classroom.
Coates attended Howard, a historically black university in Washington, DC, for five years and the school played an important role in his understanding of what it means to be black in the United States. Howard has a prestigious law school, medical school, and other graduate and undergrad programs, and has graduated many important alumni. For more information on how Howard was founded and its role in U.S. (and world) history, Blackpast.org outlines the history of Howard University (1867-).
Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were started to provide African Americans an education at a time when educational institutions were segregated by law, and these institutions continue to be important centers of education, research, and culture today. American RadioWorks looks at the history of HBCUs, and follows two students at Howard. The entire podcast is interesting, but the first half is especially relevant to Between the World and Me. The website includes articles on the history of HBCUs and students at Howard University.
While many educational institutions have faced financial challenges in the 21st century, HBCUs have been hit especially hard. In this article for American Prospect, a magazine that covers policy and politics from a progressive standpoint, social and economic researchers explain why HBCUs are still important, how racism affects them economically, and what they are doing to face today’s challenges.
Civil Rights in America
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, whites in Southern states developed a system called Jim Crow, to oppress African-Americans. This article, from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, outlines the legal restrictions on African-Americans at this time, as well as social rules that reinforced inequality.
This essay, by Davarian L. Baldwin, gives an overview of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, while giving an overview of how earlier movements impacted it. It is part of a digital exhibit at the New York Public Library and includes links to images and other primary sources.
During the summer of 1961, The Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized young people from all over the U.S. to participate in Freedom Rides, when people of different racial backgrounds rode together on a buses traveling through the south. The riders faced violence at several points along the way. Although the buses never reached their destination in New Orleans, televised coverage of the Freedom Riders and the attacks they faced led to national pressure to desegregate transportation.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act became law, making efforts to limit voting and other civil rights illegal in the U.S. Throughout the south, civil rights activists worked to register black voters, while white supremacists fire-bombed churches and murdered volunteers. This story from PBS features interviews with those involved in the Civil Rights Movement 50 years later about what that summer meant for them.
While Jim Crow was primarily associated with the South, racial oppression and segregation were enforced in different ways nationwide. One practice was redlining, where government surveyors color-coded neighborhoods by how safe they were to invest money in. Places with high minority populations were depicted with red lines around them, meaning it was impossible or expensive for people to get loans to buy houses, making it difficult for African-Americans and other minorities to build wealth. This Washington Post article by Tracy Jan looks at how redlining still affects people and communities, even though parts of it are now illegal. Coates has written about the impact of redlining and other unfair policies in many of his essays, including The Case for Reparations.
In this review of a biography of Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the activist’s life and how his message resonates in different ways today.
One major influence in Coates’s life was his father, a former Black Panther. Started in California in the mid 1960s, the group focused on changing the lives of African-American in cities and focused on self defense and economic equality. This article from Newsweek discusses the history of the Black Panthers, and how they connect to Black Lives Matter today.
This collection of statistics and analysis by Vox illustrates “what many see as a systemic emphasis on excessive use of force by police, particularly on racial and ethnic minorities.”
In the aftermath of the murder of two NYC police officers in December 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates examines why “we” (the general public; US citizens very broadly) respond differently to the killings of police than to killings by police. What does this mean for the possibility of police reform? Do “we” even really want it?
The Nation’s Health, a publication of the American Public Health Association, summarizes a finding published in the scholarly journal Criminology & Public Policy in February 2017: “Police who fatally shoot civilians may unconsciously be motivated by racial bias.”
Near the beginning of Between the World and Me, Coates writes about watching his son Samori’s reaction to learning the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, would not be indicted. This article from FiveThirtyEight explains what made the grand jury’s decision unusual, and some possible reasons why it happened anyway.
In July 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin. (Note that Zimmerman was not a police officer but rather a resident of the neighborhood where he killed Martin.) Trayvon Martin’s case helped launch the national conversation about shootings of African-American men, and Coates references Martin frequently in his book. This article from the Washington Post focuses on the different responses to Zimmerman’s acquittal nationwide.
Prince George's County
This site provides basic statistics and demographic information for Prince George’s County, MD, home of Coates’s friend Prince Jones and the police officer who killed him in 2000. Try comparing Prince George’s County data to Montgomery County, MD, which is located adjacent to P.G. County; Fairfax County, VA, where Prince Jones was shot and killed; and Washington, DC, where Coates and Jones went to college. Compare to your home county, as well.
Social Movements against Racist Police Brutality and Department of Justice Intervention in Prince George’s County, Maryland
This study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Urban Health in 2016 provides a theoretical and historical overview of police brutality in Prince George’s County, MD, and outlines the ongoing resistance to racism and racist policing via legislation and social movements in the county.
The Kojo Nnamdi show is a long-running radio program that focuses on local politics and social issues in the greater Washington, DC, metropolitan area. It airs on WAMU, the DC area’s public radio station. In this episode, Kojo Nnamdi hosts a town-hall style community conversation in Prince George’s County. His co-hosts for the conversation include Maryland State Delegate Alonzo Washington; Larry Stafford of the social justice organization Progressive Maryland; Tonia Wellons, founder of the Prince George’s Social Innovation Fund; Prince George’s Sheriff Melvin High; and Major Raymond Gordon of the Prince George’s Police Department. The conversation was held on November 17, 2015, and aired on November 19, 2015.
This article was published shortly after the shooting death of Prince Jones in November 2000. It provides biographical details about Jones’ life and commentary from his family and friends. The Washington City Paper is a free, weekly newspaper that began publication in 1981 and focuses on local news and arts and culture in the Washington, DC, area.
This article, published in 2014 shortly after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, examines the phenomenon of police brutality and efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable in Prince George’s County, MD. Politico Magazine is a free online magazine that is also published bi-monthly in print. It focuses on politics and policy-making and tends to feature long-form journalism.
Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Literary Influence
This poem, which inspired the title of Coates’s book, portrays the aftermath of a lynching. Coates includes a passage from the poem as an epigraph at the beginning of the book, which addresses similar themes of how American society makes black people physically vulnerable to violence.
Coates draws inspiration from poetry and books by Richard Wright, an African-American author who wrote his best known works in the 1930s and 40s. Coates borrows the title of his book from Wright, and cites books such as Native Son throughout Between the World and Me. Wright’s views on race were often more dark than hopeful, and he was seen by some as writing to a primarily white audience, critiques Coates has faced as well. This page about Wright comes from Modern American Poetry, a website that collects historical information and literary analysis.
When Between the World and Me was published, novelist Toni Morrison famously declared Coates the intellectual heir to another major American writer and thinker: James Baldwin. In fact, Coates himself has cited Baldwin as a major influence on his work. So what’s the connection? As you read the articles below, think about why it might be important to know how one writer has influenced another.
The piece by Baldwin that most obviously influenced Between the World and Me is his “Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” which became the first part of Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time, in 1963. (The “Letter” by itself is fairly short, so you will be able to read it in a few minutes.) An important concept in both works is innocence. As you read, think about what Baldwin means by “innocence,” and how that compares to Coates. This version of Baldwin’s letter comes from the website of Progressive magazine, which first published it as a standalone piece of writing in 1962.
In this interview, published by the British newspaper The Guardian, Coates explains how James Baldwin came to influence his work.
Not everyone fully agrees with the comparison between Coates and Baldwin. In this article for New York magazine, arts and culture writer Vinson Cunningham explains why he thinks “the differences between the two … are actually more revealing than the similarities.”
In this article for the New Republic, Benjamin Anastas writes about his experience teaching a literature course on James Baldwin and Richard Wright in the fall of 2014, shortly after the police shooting of Michael Brown and unrest in Ferguson, MO. Anastas, a white English professor, came into the class with a strong preference for Baldwin’s focus on the power of love to change people, while he saw Wright as too focused on the ways violence causes change. His students, however, nearly half of whom were people of color, saw Wright as the more relevant author in a time when police shootings were constantly in the news. Anastas discusses how he and his students found new ways to understand both authors.
This is a series of reviews and reader responses to the book, as part of an online book club hosted by the magazine The Atlantic, where Coates is a national correspondent.
In this review for the New York Times, Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness) discusses how hopeful she was when she first read the book that it would give Coates’s answers to how to overcome racism, and how she was disappointed and overwhelmed by the lack of answers, then reread the book, seeing it in a new light.
While Coates makes important points about being black, Shani O. Hilton, in this review for BuzzFeed, says that too often books about being African American treat men’s experience as universal. Hilton compares her own experience at Howard with Coates’s and critiques Between the World and Me for not addressing women enough.
While some reviewers have criticized Coates for being too angry or not hopeful enough, Darryl Pinckney looks at how African-American writers, including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin have discussed and debated what it means to be black in a deeply racist society, and how Coates adds to that conversation in Between the World and Me. This review comes from the New York Review of Books.
Using the stories of African Americans and unions that have fought back against oppression, R.L. Stephens, in this review for Viewpoint Magazine, critiques Between the World and Me as focusing too much on racism and not enough on class struggle.