A Comprehensive Analysis of Between the World and Me, a Book by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coates recounts his life in the United States to his son by providing him a letter in which he conveys how life is and the hardships faced when living in a black body. The overlying theme in the novel that portrays such a lifestyle is the disembodiment of African Americans through American social structure. American social structure causes blacks to live in fear and causes them to be skeptical of America. Being disembodied means to be detached from your own body. It causes individuals to feel stood against; to feel useless; to feel as if they are not a part of the world. By encompassing around the theme of disembodiment, Coates is able to show the destruction of the black community and teach his adolescent son the realities of being black in the United States. In this paper, I will be providing examples on how the black communities were disembodied through exploitation and how it led to their destruction.
American social structure has created fear to arise in black communities due to the injustices they face and the social stigma inflicted upon them. Coates displays this when he first mentions the idea of police brutality. He states, “The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions…All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible” (Coates, 2015, 9). Black communities should not be used to this idea of inequality and injustice when it comes to American policies. They have to deal with these issues to the point where they already know who the case is going to favor; whites. Not only is this police brutality, it is racial discrimination. Blacks are disembodied and pushed aside. “[It] is a kind of terrorism, and the threat of it alters the orbit of all our lives and, like terrorism, his distortion is intentional” (Coates, 2015, 114). Their voices are always left unheard. America is known to be a country of equal protection, but in cases of African Americans, they are not. Laws do not protect them as they should and blacks are aware of this unsettling nature. Coates demonstrates this when he states, “The law did not protect us. And now, in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping and frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body” (Coates, 2015, 17). Police officers tend to escape from any legal issues regarding the treatment of civilians. Police do not have the right to administer any harm upon someone during an investigated scene initially. They have set rules to follow and officers tend to abuse this authority they have over citizens. It creates the police system to be unjust and violates its dictum in “keeping people safe”. This further leads to disembodiment, as blacks feel unwanted with such mistreatment. They are fearful of whites and authoritative abuse. Furthermore, Coates also mentions how he had to “adapt” new ways to survive and not be disembodied in the streets. He had to learn to protect himself and “shield [his] body” (Coates, 2015, 23). Coates “memorized a list of prohibited blocks [and] learned the smell and feel of fighting weather” (Coates, 2015, 23). As a concerned black man, he had to be prepared and had to know where aggression took place. He also wrote to his son, “When I was about your age, each day fully one third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled…I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with preserving the body” (Coates, 2015, 24). He is aware of every step he takes and of his appearance. He knows how other African Americans see him, and how white people see him. This concern also shows the way fear ran in the everyday lives of African Americans. Coates is aware that racism is not gone, and he wants to protect his son. Even as an adult, Coates had to deal with disrespect when a white man yelled at him, “‘I could have arrested you’” (Coates, 2015, 94) for defending his son to walk wherever he wants. White people are aware of the divide between races and choose to take advantage of it. Blacks lack the chances in life that other ethnicities obtain and because of this, their lives are surrounded by fear. He “confess[es] that [he is] afraid. And [has] no God to hold [him] up” (Coates, 2015, 113). Coates uses these instances to show the brokenness of the black community to teach his son about the realities of life in a black body. He wants to prepare his son for the unreasonable but encourage him to move forward without fear despite such hardships he will face.
Not only has fear arose in black communities living in the United States, but the American social structure has also led blacks to be skeptical of the nation. The United States is seen as a country that protects everyone and is home of the American Dream, however, it fails to convey this aspect. This nation has created a history of destroying black bodies and minds. Coates refers to it as a “system that makes your body breakable” (Coates, 2015, 18). He reminds his son, “Here is what I would like for you to know [son]: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage” (Coates, 2015, 103). People never realize the truth behind America given its viewing as an exceptional country and because of this, American never accepts their offenses. It is not the nation Coates expected it to be. Instead, he sees it filled with hatred and crime. He states,
America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization… And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names. But you and I have never truly had that luxury (Coates, 2015, 8-9).
Due to this disillusionment, black communities in the United States have become skeptical about America. If it were to follow its standards then African Americans would feel accepted and would be treated as a part of the world. Coates also disputes about American schooling and how it has false misperceptions as well. “I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them…I sensed the schools were hiding something, drugging us with false morality so that we would not see, so that we did not ask: Why-for us and only us-is the other side of free will and free spirits an assault upon our bodies?” (Coates, 2015, 26). Coates’s questions were never answered given that others were never concerned with curiosity. Americans were taught what they had to be taught excluding concerns and overlooking reality, portraying America with this sense of disbelief. Coates only wants what is best for his son and informs him that he is:
“…a black boy, and must be responsible for [his] body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, [he] must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to [him]. And [he] must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful – the policeman who cracks [him] with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in [his] furtive movements…[He has] to make peace with the chaos, but [he] cannot lie. [He] cannot forget how much they took from [them] and how they transfigured [their] very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton and gold” (Coates, 2015, 71).
Coates does not want his son to grow up facing these lies and does not halt to recount the actualities of what he will eventually approach. He says, “I did not want to raise you in fear or false memory. I did not want you forced to mask your joys and bind your eyes. What I wanted for you was to grow into consciousness. I resolved to hide nothing from you” (Coates, 2015, 111). Coates does not want his son to grow up believing that the idea and dream of America is “just”, so he reminds him of the truth and how it has cost black bodies.
Growing up in a world of hate disembodies an individual, and this is exactly how Coates and black communities feel in America. They do not feel the need to be there and feel empty apart from everyone else given the mistreatment they face from authority and other races. Ta-Nehisi Coates focuses on the theme of disembodiment in the American social structure to further illustrate how it has destroyed black communities and to disclose the realities of living in a black body in the United States to his adolescent son. By doing so, he is preparing his son for the injustices and oppressions that he will ultimately have to become reconciled with and encourage him to move along forward to live an untroubled life that is not bounded with fear.
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