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In 1963, James Baldwin, aged thirty-nine, published the open letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, that forms the first part of The Fire Next Time. In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates, aged thirty-nine, published an open letter to his son, aged fifteen, titled Between the World and Me.1 The book is Coates’s The Fire Next Time.

To use a sample of two is not, of course, in any sense a scientific way to measure the change in relations between black and...