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Between The World and Me: Black Body and Cautious Optimism

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Racism and the strife towards a non-oppressive society has been a task attempted by many, ranging from extreme activists, to educators, to the proactive civilian. Such prejudice serves as a confine to those impacted, filtering out opportunities of this alleged “free nation” for minorities. While many individuals go to great lengths to avoid this sensitive subject, it is crucial that the dialogue and discussion persist so solutions and ways to resolve this systematic oppression are discovered and explored. In Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the topic of racism for African Americans is explored.

The book goes into details of how America intentionally “destroys the Black body,” and refuses to acknowledge their oppressive habits that puts institutions in the hands of the White folks. How can a father truly protect his own son from a nation so violent and so hateful? Only through education and encouraging a a mindset of empathy and compassion is how Coates found fitting to prevent a highly plausible reality of his son succumbing to the words of the oppressors.

The first theme that Coates explore is the nation’s intentional ways to oppress the black body, recounting his own experiences of his younger years, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body––it is heritage.” Coates does this in attempt to relay to his son the dangers of being black in American, having evidence of how exactly the world is out to get the African American demographic.

Destroying the black body is America’s way to firmly establish a power move with white people on top. “…so that America might justify itself, the story of a black body’s destruction must begin with his or her error, real or imagined…”By just having a darker complexion, by just merely existing, can African Americans fear for their lives for having done nothing wrong but just exist as an individual with melanin in their blood. “The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority.”

This painful truth makes it an arduous task for African Americans to stand against this brutality, yet it is absolutely necessary as seen through Coates deciding to even write this. If he felt it were useless to try to suede his son towards a more knowledgeable future, he would not dedicate the time to write this book to him. In the text, Coates reflects on his own desire to leave the burdens and achieve what he then considered the “American Dream.” “For so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

The concept of the American dream is flawed since it depends on the subjugation and oppression of African Americans, the only way that this “American Dream” can flourish is through the beat down of African Americans. This is not a dream, but a flaw. Why does America constantly reiterate this idea of the “self made man” when it does not take into account the endless obstacles that perpetuates African Americans lack of ability to efficiently climb up the social ladder unlike the white predecessors. Literature can be an outlet for one’s desire, dreams, ambitions, etc. However, in regards to this situation, Coates utilizes this medium to speak an important message of overcoming racial barriers for his son.

This book, Coates’ usage of personal anecdotes, grand metaphors, and a cautionary yet empowering diction that allows his message to shine through. “But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” Coates’ attempt to enlighten his son of the dangers and woes that comes with being Black in American reflects a tragic, deeper truth of the African American demographic.

There is an unerasable burden that is thrust upon them, finding that balance of advocating for racial justice. However, remaining aware that through the institutional sectors that aid in oppressing African Americans, their words of justice and seeking what is right can easily be silenced. There is something chilling, reading the cautionary words said to his own son, “They had worked two and three jobs, put children through high school and college, and become pillars of their community. I admired them, but I knew the whole time that I was merely encountering the survivors…” This structure parallels the racial hierarchy that has been established and continuously reiterated throughout history.

The passion and pain that is read throughout Between the World and Me elevates Coates’ impact, giving the opportunity to let his words marinate in the minds of the reader. While Coates’ encourages his son to acknowledge these components that play into being African American, he does not, however, encourage resentment and hostility. Rather he pushes his son towards conducting himself in a manner that is not so easily accomplished, compassion and understanding towards the oppressors. “In accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, I was freed to truly consider how I wished to live specifically, how do I live free in this black body?” One cannot truly understand the weight that must be carried unless had experienced themselves.

Yet, it is easy to call out the different incidents and experiences that contribute to the mess that is America. However, to not seek answers in the conglomerate of injustices and aggressions is not the path that one should take according to the text of Coates, “It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country. It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us. The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness.”

To reach full fledged liberation from the racial oppression, Coates’ stresses for a transformed dialogue, not filled with hate and desire to supersede the white folk of America. While Coates’ writings may just be one of many African American literature, his choice to write a piece that requires an amazing amount of vulnerability comes to show the dedication to acknowledging and overcoming racial barriers that many African Americans must commit to. “I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”

As readers, we are able to catch a glimpse of Coates’ perspectives his fears, hopes, and desires for his son. The entire concept of whiteness comes hand in hand with being extremely privileged, benefitting from the exploitation of African Americans. The exploitation of African Americans is derived from the disadvantageous institutions to African Americans, the amount of foreign industries that set their ways to utilize Africa’s dependency in the fiscal hemisphere, and the historical defacing of the demographic’s humanity.

With Ta-Nehisi and his words, one can only hope there is movement upwards towards an equal society. The nation should not be complacent in mediocrity but rather should strive for a society where no exploitation takes place, no institutional benefit towards a dominant group but rather all demographics benefitting from services that are meant to assist all individuals. Through Between the World and Me, there lies the possibility of a future not riddled with fear and anxiety but rather purity and the strife towards a more compassionate future.

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Between the World and Me: Black Body and Cautious Optimism. (2018, May 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
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