The Experience Of Black People in Between You And Me
The Question during the Talk Show
Coates begins with directly addressing his son Samori, in which he describes a time in which he was speaking on a talk show and was asked to describe the meaning behind the term “what it means to lose his body” (5). The book allows us to see what it was like being a black man who was trying to live an American life, and I would agree with Coate’s description of a black person’s life in America at that time.
The primary theme in the book is bringing attention to the experiences that black bodies in America had to endure and had no choice in becoming accustomed to; a system of culture and injustice which was inherently intent on controlling the black bodies. Coate’s moral senses are that the dichotomy between the host’s world and the world as Coates sees it is the reason why he believes he was “summoned” to speak (5). Coates believed that the host was asking why Coates felt that the “white American progress” was created by looting and violence (6). In Coate’s defense, he feels that the answer to this question is already embedded within the white American history, and I would agree with Coates that as a result of the “whiteness” that America was displaying resulted in the growth of America.
The Dream Built Through the Oppression
Coates goes on to say that white Americans worship democracy, however, in the past, this has allowed the Americans to infringe on the very democratic values through the “torture, theft, and enslavement” although this event wasn’t just confined to America (6). For Coates, the American devotion of “democracy” to the “people of the government” is that the problem lies with “the people of the government” trying to figure out exactly what is meant by “people”. Part of this problem is that “people” feel that they understood the meaning of race, believing that it is a “defined, indubitable feature of the natural world” (7). For Coates, race is the child of racism, and a process of naming “the people”, however, this definition did not include black people (7). What most American white people have failed to realize is that their achievement to their whiteness came through the “slavery, rape, sale of children, free labor and pillaging of life”, all for the “person” to be denied their right to govern their own body (8).
Coates’ son Samori is 15 years old during this writing and Coates acknowledges that his son has witnessed violent and racist deaths of the black people around him (9). These killings have shown that the white American police loathe the black people around them and it was clearly shown that no matter what, black people of America will endure unavoidable racism and that black people’s children would not be protected in the same manner as those of the “white” communities in America.
Soon after the host asks Coates about hope, it is at this time that Coates realizes he has failed in conveying his message (10). Coates observes white families out in the community after leaving the TV studio, although Coates feels sad, he finds himself realizing that the white families are living in a “gorgeous dream” (11). For Coates that dream has all the desirable features of the American culture which only the “white” society could achieve because the dream was been built through the oppression of the black people and the white people could not connect the relationship between the dream (the oppression) and reality of which the dream was created on.
Samori soon learns that the killers will not be punished for the killing of Mike Brown, in which Coates isn’t surprised however Samori is. Coates chooses not to comfort his son because Coates feels that this would provide a sense of false hope to Samori in which Coates feels giving false optimism is wrong and that Samori needs to understand the reality of what the life of a black person is.
Coates elucidates a contradiction within the identity of the American. For Coates, the American dream is linked to freedom. Coates believes that one can only truly be free if they conclude to believe in the myths of the American dream, individuality and religion. This raises the question of what does being free mean? For Coates the true meaning of freedom is an unanswerable definition, however, just the journey in trying to answer this question would be a form of freedom all in itself. Coates scrutinizes all kinds of different paths that black people had to endure throughout his letter to his son. The risks and fear of being black alone in America had put individuals in situations that required them to conceal their vulnerabilities, therefore creating a situation of a role of toughness and fighting just to hide their vulnerability of being a black body in white American society (15).
The Atmosphere of Constant Fear
This was further ingrained into Coates by his father Paul. The history of the beating Coates endured from his father, along with his generosity for helping raising Samori was a way in which many black families attempted to protect their children from the danger of the white world around them including the anti-black violence from the police. Coates acknowledged that subjecting their black children to harsh punishments didn’t mean that the parents loved their children any less, it was a way of keeping the black person in a state of constant fear, because all authorities that were created to protect and keep children safe were actually the very source of the violence itself and it surrounded them every day. Coates recalls, “My father was so very afraid. I felt it in the sting of his black leather belt … my father who beat me as if someone might steal me away because that is exactly what was happening all around us. Everyone had lost a child, somehow, to the streets, to jail, to drugs, to guns.” (15, 16) For Coates, his opinion of the education system that the black children were receiving from the Baltimore school system was just a way in which the “white” systems of authority were able to control and suppress the black children of the community. Therefore, in Coate’s opinion, the school system pretty much became a symbolic prison, which was put into place to keep the black child from growing and developing.
For Coates the escaping of the oppressive environment was unimaginable, and Coates reminds us just how America was in its restrictiveness and threats on the life of the black children. Coates addresses how the black community had been tortured by the hands of their oppressors the “white people”, and yet government officials had yet to take any accountability on their part. What seemed to start as slavery turned into a fear, a fear of being sold, a fear of being murdered, fear of being raped, which has ultimately transformed into a loss of identity and hopelessness. As Coates described, his brain was too preoccupied with fear and survival when it “should have been concerned with more beautiful things” (24), and his feelings of always having to protect his body which was an “unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence” (90). He argued the “the dream” for White America is “their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity has done to the world” (146) is the very reason for the never-ending perspective of the black community, which has caused the black “bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos” (151).
Coates realizes the pressure that his son Samori will be under just by being a young black person, and yet his dreams for the life of his son are fundamentally tarnished by his fears of what society or specifically the “white” person will demand from his son. Although Coates has fears about the future outcome of his son’s life in the world as Coates sees it, Coates does inspire Samori to love the world that he is in which will allow him to survive and flourish.
Coates does a great job of establishing himself within the walls of racial oppression of American society. How Coates describes the events of slavery, police brutality, education and even parenting of black children all within the elements of oppression, are very important lessons for us, as this has further our understanding of the identity of black people in the 21st century. As a result, our political, economic and cultural outcomes have been able to move beyond the typical stereotypes with having a better understanding of what it means to live in our current society as a black person.
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