There have been plenty of white writers that have attempted to influence society on the subject of racial injustice while never have experienced it for themselves. However, Ta-Nehisi Coates approaches the subject of racism from his personal experiences of growing up a black man in America. Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me, is written in the form of a letter to his fifteen-year old son who is trying to make sense of racial injustice and white privilege taking place in the world. Coates book is eye opening and makes you think and acknowledge that racism is ingrained into our history. As a biracial young adult, I was curious to see what inspiration Coates had to give to young adults of color in this time of heightened racial tension and divide.
However, through my reading of this book, I found Coates offered little hope that justice or equality will ever take place for black people in America. Coates simply believes America is set on destroying black bodies and the American Dream is not in the cards for black people because of white social structure. There is no denying that Coates message of racial injustice and white privilege exists today; nevertheless, teaching young black people to just hunker down and accept things the way they are is not acceptable. It is necessary to arm ourselves with knowledge and continue working on the differences that separate us today. Reports of racial injustice in America are widespread. Every year the public hears of yet another black person being killed. In his book, Coates is concerned about his son’s mortal black body, and voices his concerns in a letter to his son. Coates beliefs that there is no hope for black people stems from his past. Coates does not see the possibility of change because of numerous personal experiences both his parents and he experienced.
Coates thinks this way because he has been taught no other way. From a very young age he has been told to watch out for his personal safety. He has seen many gangs in his childhood that were not only killed by the police, but also at the hands of each other. He tells of growing up as a young black boy in a rough neighborhood of West Baltimore and a black boy pulled a gun on him (19). He recalls when a white woman rudely shoved his son and in turn was threatened with having the police arrest him (94). One of the most significant experiences in Coates life was the murder of his friend Prince Jones. Coates describes the waste of Prince Jones’ life, a black wealthy student that attended Howard University, who was shot to death by a police officer. Coates blames this death on the “country and all the fears that have marked it from birth” (78). Fears that Coates connects directly to the American Dream. Black human sacrifice is what allows the “Dreamers” to enjoy the American dream. Unlike Coates, I was raised in a family that he would refer to as the “Dreamers.” The Dreamers are people who believe in the American Dream. This means freedom, safety, equality and wealth is available for anyone that works hard for it. I have a biological black father and a white mother. However, I was raised by white parents in a predominantly white neighborhood and attended a predominantly white school. When I was younger I did not notice the differences between myself and other white kids.
When I was around 7 years old my friend asked me if I was a brown person. I replied with “No. I am just peach” as I proceeded to show her my white butt. I truly just thought I was like all my other white friends. I know now that being black is more than just skin color. It is the history and like experiences black people share. Personally, I’ve never had to deal with racial discrimination very much. This could be due in part to my sheltered life or because my skin is a light color. I find most white people are curious as to what I am because my hair is very kinky. Others do not even bring it up. Maybe it is more comfortable for them just to assume I am just white like them. After all, white society has biases that usually associate white people with good and black people with bad. Black people just look at me knowingly. This is not to say it is intentional but it does happen. While I have been asked my racial identity and people constantly asking to touch my hair, it has never bothered me. Partly because I have no problem with identifying as biracial. I have never tried to be one race more than the other but people are quick to define it for me. After reading this book, I realize I am a person of color that also has white privilege. For example: I live in a safe middle class neighborhood where I am accepted. I was raised by a white step-father who also happens to be a police officer. Consequently, I have never had to worry about pulled over and being afraid or worry how people would treat me because of my skin color. I have had the luxury of not constantly worrying about race where black people do not have that option. Perhaps like Coates, college will be my “Mecca” or the beginning of my journey to enlightenment.
Coates recalls how his time at Howard University was in sharp contrast to his time in middle and high school. Coates explains, “The schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance” (26). Whereas Coates describes Howard University as “My only Mecca was, is, and shall always be Howard University” (39). A place where people can share their differences and experiences with each other while increasing their knowledge of racial injustices. Where Coates experiences made him more bitter and close minded to any actual change taking place I feel more optimistic about change. Racism has always played a role in our history and is still present today. As such, this does not mean black people should just lie down and accept this as their fate. There is no quick solution to ending racial differences but I believe the first step is acknowledging there is a problem. We all have a shared responsibility for looking for solutions. Once we do this it opens us up to really getting to know people on a personal level where we can further understand and see the world through their eyes. For now I will continue to fight against social injustice, acknowledge my biracial privilege, and continue my journey of self-awareness.