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“The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any cost, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream”. Azar Nafisi (a writer and professor of English literature) superbly captures how the pursuit of the American Dream can cause the oppression of others. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’ is a letter addressed to his fifteen-year-old son, Samori, in which Coates combines a series of personal experiences with historical developments to illustrate the cyclical assault of the black body and, overall, what it means to be of black identity in America. Coates goes on to portray white supremacy as an imperishable force that African Americans will never escape and always struggle against. In ‘Between the World and Me’, Coates utilizes the motif of the dream (Coates’ distorted idea of the American Dream) and personal anecdote to convey that those who believe that they are white and privileged in society are, in reality, oppressors because they sustain their belief through the cyclical subjugation of African Americans using violence and fear.

Coates utilizes a personal anecdote about a visit to Mrs. Mabel Jones (the mother of a victim of police brutality) to illustrate that societal oppression is inescapable despite one’s social status. In Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’, during Coates’ visit with Mrs. Mabel Jones (the mother of Prince Jones – a victim of police brutality), he noticed that she maintained her composure incredibly well despite the recent loss of her son, however, she then comments that her son “…had means. He had a family. He was living like a human being. And one racist act took him away. And the same is true of [her]. [She] spent years developing a career, acquiring assets, engaging responsibilities. And one racist act [is] all it takes” (Coates, 145). The repetition of the phrase ‘one racist act’ evokes the fragility of the black body. Coates’ personal anecdote about his visit with Ms. Jones implies that Dr. Marble Jones was aware that her son’s social status was not enough to protect him from police brutality. Furthermore, one could say that Dr. Jones’s presentation of great self-control is tragically ironic because there was ultimately nothing she could do to shield her son from police brutality. Coates illustrates that oppression is inescapable because one’s black identity automatically makes one a target of racial oppression since one’s identity as a black American is inescapable. Ultimately, Coates elucidates that racism is a universal oppression because one’s socioeconomic status is not enough to save one from the oppressive grips of societal oppression. Moreover, while still conversing with Mrs. Jones, Coates observes a picture of Mrs. Jones’s daughter and her new husband on display, he asserts that “Dr. Jones was not optimistic. She was intensely worried about her bringing a son into America because she could not save him, she could not secure his body from the ritual violence that had claimed her son” (Coates, 144). The use of the specific diction – ‘ritual’ – connotes that racial injustice is a tradition in America. Coates demonstrates that it is practically impossible to overcome racial oppression as exemplified by Mrs. Jones, who raised her children with such luxury and access, but ‘one racist act’ still destroys it all. Additionally, it is important to note Coates’ assertion that Mrs. Jones was not optimistic because it illustrates her loss of hope for a future without oppression. Ultimately, the death of Prince Jones is living proof of Coates’ idea that oppression is inescapable, not only does it show the vanity of one’s socioeconomic status against the overwhelming force of oppression, but it also illustrates that white supremacy is an imperishable force that African Americans will never escape and always struggle against.

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Furthermore, Coates’ personal anecdote about a visit to Mrs. Mabel Jones demonstrates that not only is oppression inescapable, but that the American Dream sustains itself on the cyclical and continued destruction of the black body. After asserting that Mrs. Jones was not optimistic, Coates explains that she also compared America to Rome and thought that “the glory days of [the] country had long ago passed, and even those glory days of [the] country had long ago passed, and even those glory days were sullied: they had been built on the bodies of others. And…We don’t understand that we are embracing our deaths” (Coates, 144). Mrs. Jones’s use of the diction ‘bodies’ resonates with Coates’ idea of ‘the black body’, therefore, she shares the same ideas with Coates about the destruction of the ‘black body’. Through Mrs. Jones’s assertion, Coates explains that America is in many ways similar to Rome because the United States became a strong nation based on slavery. Blacks were exploited and controlled by fear and violence to build the very foundations of the United States as a nation. Ultimately, Coates conveys to black Americans to avoid embracing the nationalism of the U.S. because by doing so they are embracing their death even further since the continued progress and sustainment of the U.S. as a nation requires the continued subjugation of black Americans. Additionally, Coates goes off-topic for a moment and compares Mrs. Jones’ facial expression to those of the pictures from the sit-ins in the 60s, he notices a resemblance and asserts that “Whatever it is, that same look [he saw] in those pictures, noble and vacuous, was the look [he] saw in Mable Jones…they betray almost no emotion” (Coates, 142). Coates’ description of Mrs. Jones’s expression as ‘vacuous’ illustrates a sense of mindlessness. Here, Coates dives into the psychological aspects of the effects of racial inequality on black Americans. He portrays Mrs. Jones’ look as being mindless to illustrate that black Americans utilize emotional detachment as a mechanism to help cope with the melancholy of racial inequality. Ultimately, Coates conveys that racial oppression causes deep psychological effects, therefore causing black Americans to affect an indifferent attitude to avoid having to experience the pain that comes along with being oppressed.

Moreover, to further illustrate how the American Dream sustains itself on the cyclical and continued destruction of the black body, Coates utilizes the motif of the dream to convey that those who believe they are white and privileged live in constant denial of reality because reality is a shame to their world, since to acknowledge reality is to acknowledge that they oppress and subjugate others to attain to sustain their dreams. Coates explains that America betrayed Mrs. Jones because “forgetting is a habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream” and “to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free” (Coates, 143). Coates juxtaposes ‘beautiful Dream’ and ‘force’ to convey the vast difference between the world of the dreamers and the world of the oppressed. Coates demonstrates that the oppressed live in reality, while those who believe they are white live in a fictional world, a delusion that blinds them from the reality of the costs of their dreams. Additionally, the idea that forgetting the oppressed in America is a ‘habit’ resonates with Coates’ previous idea that the destruction of the black body is a ‘ritual’. Furthermore, Coates evokes that to awaken the dreamers of today is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. “It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans” (Coates, 143). Coates’ use of the diction ‘stain’ conveys impurity, which the dreamers deny having. Coates expands on the idea of human fragility by illustrating that while ‘one racist act’ reveals the fragility of the black body, reality reveals the fragility of the dreamers since they live in constant denial of it. Ultimately, Coates elucidates that dreamers (those who believe they are white) lack humanity because they deny their vulnerability as human beings by living in denial that their empire is built based on plundered and exploited bodies.

In conclusion, when one considers Coates’ idea that oppression is inescapable and that those who believe that they are white sustain their dreams through the oppression of black bodies, it is clear that oppression truly is universal and inescapable to an extent. Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’ is a book not only addressed to Samori but to the general black population and oppressed groups around the world. He argues that whiteness is a belief created by those who have an innate desire for power and superiority over others. Furthermore, he distorts the idea of the American Dream by revealing that while it creates a vast opportunity for some, it plunders and exploits others, therefore, the American Dream itself necessitates the need for some to be oppressed while others prosper. ‘Between the World and Me’ is a wake-up call, a reality check for both blacks and whites, for whites who believe that they can continue to pursue more power without destroying others and the world around them, and for blacks who believe they can participate in this pursuit for more power because to participate in the dream is to advocate for the continued destruction of their bodies.

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