“Between the World and Me ... and Twitter”, Stephan A. Crockett, Jr. writing in The Root:
The book is lyrical and rhythmic. There are lines in the book that are worthy of tattoos; there are lines in the book that could be early writings of a constitution for black folks. There are lines in the book that will make you cry.
So it isn’t the book as much as it’s the duality of Coates the writer and Coates as celebrity, as voice of blackness-turned-entity, Coates as phenomenon.
Coates as writer still believes—even earnestly, I would imagine—that he is just Coates the writer. Coates as phenomenon is a powerhouse sentient being who has the ear of the actual god, Toni Morrison, and has been anointed a Christ-like literary Jesus.
And so forth and so on:
In short, Coates as writer is a recognizer and nonsubscriber to the dream. Coates as phenomenon achieved it.
And isn’t that the premise for it all? The book as a private conversation between a father and his son for public consumption, a literal migration from Baltimore to Baldwin. Even the fact that Coates as writer is shocked when whites are interested in his work underlies the truth that Coates as phenomenon writes. For. The. Atlantic.
Coates as celebrity seems rather different from Coates as priest, but I think that Crockett is looking at the same phenomenon as McWhorter is.
I like the term that Loury used in one of his dialogs with McWhorter, expressive. This is expressive culture we’re looking at. It may take the form of an argument for reparations in one case, or a letter to one’s son, but the fundamental impulse is expressive. It’s a mechanism through which groups share values and norms.
For some deep intellectual background, see David G. Hays, The Evolution of Expressive Culture, 1993.