"Between the World and Me" is a must read. At 152 pages, it's a small investment of time that leaves a large impact. I invite you to read this book with the intent to ask curious questions, to be ok feeling uncomfortable, and to continue this important dialogue.
I hope to haunt [my readers], to trouble their sense of how things actually are.
~ Ta-Nehisi Coates
This year’s book club selection for the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., was “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, chosen to embrace the theme of the meeting: “Courage to Lead: Equity, Engagement, and Advocacy in Turbulent Times.”
Written in the form of a missive from father to teenage son, “Between the World and Me,” is a book reminiscent of James Baldwin’s writings. It tells the raw truths of the history of oppression that has resulted in a racially-divided America where not all bodies are treated equal. Where some bodies are breakable and others are not. Where aspirations of living “the Dream” is an irony, in reality only accessible to some and the awareness of inaccessibility open to others.
Sitting around round tables during the Friday lunchtime session, almost 45 participants discussed themes from the book that resonated within them including: Power & Privilege. Racism. What is whiteness? The vulnerability of the body. American history and narrative. And many more. With deliberate focus on self-reflection, using themes and quotations from the book, the facilitators asked participants to write a brief letter to a chosen person inspired by what the book evoked in them.
The excerpts below from the book were among those chosen to promote discussion:
Race is the child of racism, not the father.
Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free.
I had forgotten the rules, an error as dangerous on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as on the Westside of Baltimore.
Some of us make it out. But the game is played with loaded dice.
What matters is the system that makes your body breakable . . .
These are just a few of many quotations that so aptly illustrate the grim reality that “Between the World and Me” lays out clearly—timely in its exploration of the stark inequities of policing, housing, education, and more.
As for our book club, we left the room without answers, and perhaps more questions. But with the closing thoughts of how this book might inform our own personal and professional development, there were also glimmers of hope. We committed to further inquiry and active acknowledgement that we must ask more questions to understand our patients’ lived reality, inextricably linked to their health, in order to become better clinicians and improve their care.
“Between the World and Me” is a must read. At 152 pages, it’s a small investment of time that leaves a large impact on the reader. I invite you to read this book with the intent to ask curious questions, be ok feeling uncomfortable, and to continue this important dialogue.