Ta-Nehesi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

Part One (pp. 1-72)

Discussion Question:

Ta-Nehesi Coates' journey to adulthood is specific to his own personality and situation, but its literary value grows from its universality.

Coates' experience of the streets, his parents, and his schools in West Baltimore during the 1980's and early 90's may have been fundamentally different from your own experience growing up, but the process he goes through as he responds to the people and situations he encounters by trying on a variety of selves is true of any adolescent. By the time he reaches age twenty-five, Coates has found a way to integrate these various selves into his adult identity as a writer, husband and father.

Describe the various selves Coates experiences as he grows up:
  • How did he learn to cope with an abusive neighborhood and abusive parents?
  • How did his love of reading and writing survive his disillusionment with school?
  • What different masks did he try on and then discard when he found himself at Howard University?
  • How did his understanding of injustice transform as he learned more about history and human nature? How did he learn to understand the fiction of race?
  • What did he learn about writing from his encounters with poets and writers in DC's literary scene?
  • How did his experiences with women, his future wife, and fatherhood enable Coates to integrate his various selves into a healthy whole?
Study Questions:

(p. 1) In this quote from Wright's poem (of the same title as Coates' book), what is the 'it' that has come 'thrusting between the world and me' for Coates? (Wright Reading his Poem)

(p. 3) Think about the quote from Sanchez that serves as an epigram as well. What does Coates' rejection of martyrdom tell us of his goal in this essay?

Part One (pp. 1-71)

The Interview (pp. 1-13)

"How do you live within a black body in a country lost in the dream?" (12)
  • What 'Dream' is he referring to? 
  • Throughout the action Coates describes his mission as reclaiming 'his body' from the shaping forces of racism. Why does Coates tell the history of African-Americans through the experience of the black body? Why is his focus on the African American body and not the psyche? 
  • How did he become so alienated from his own body?
"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." (10)
  1. (p. 5) What is the literary frame Coates uses for this essay? (To whose work is he alluding?) 
  2. (p. 5) The catalyst for Coates' introduction is a question that was asked of him during an interview with a national TV outlet. The interviewer asked him why he felt that American progress had been built on violence, but he interpreted the question to mean, "What does it mean to lose your body?"  
  3. (p. 7) What is Coates' understanding of the term 'people' as used in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address?
  4. (p. 7) How does Coates define 'race' and 'racism'?
  5. (p. 8) How did white America become 'white'?

"Americans believe in the reality of "race" as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism-- the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them­-- inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.


"But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming "the people" has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the pre-eminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible-- this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white."  (7)

  1. (p. 8) If the history of racial subjugation and oppression is typical of human history, why does Coates believe American history could be any different?
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. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen's claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much.  (8)
  1. (p. 8) What is the apparatus white Americans use to maintain their innocence in the face of the violence inflicted against blacks in American history?
" there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. 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.  (8)
  1. (p.9)  What events dominatd the the news in 2014 when Coates' son turned fifteen?  What is driving the police use of lethal force against young black men? Is it the result of racism, fear, or a deliberate police strategy?
  2. (p. 10) When the T.V. interviewer asks Coates if the photo of a young black boy hugging a white police officer gives him  hope for the future, Coates sighs again. For racial harmony to happen in America, what does Coates believe must happen?
  3. (p. 11) Why does Coates refuse to comfort his son after the fifteen year old boy became upset after learning  Michael Brown's killers (in Ferguson, Mo.) would go free?

West Baltimore (pp. 13-38)
  1. (p. 14) Coates perceives fear as the force shaping the macho posturing, street fights, and gangster rap he witnessed growing up during the late 1970's and 1980's in West Baltimore. And he links this fear to that fear felt by his grandparents facing lynch mobs. What larger historical force does he see at work? Are these forces "determining" in a philosophical sense? 
  2. (p. 16) Why do parents and grandparents rely so on hard words and beatings to teach their children? Why did his great-grand-mother beat her daughter for bringing home a boy while she was not there? What lessons were beaten into Coates's mind by his father?
  3. (p. 17) Coates says, 
"To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear."  (17) 
  1. (pp. 18-19) What happened in the parking lot of the 7/11 when Coates was twelve that were burned into his mind forever?  QUOTE
  2. (p. 19-20) Almost at the same moment, the teenage Coates began to understand the situation of black folk in America. How was his world different from the white world he could view on television
  3. (pp. 21-23) From that moment in the parking lot of the 7/11, Coates resolved to escape this neighborhood someday. To do that, he would have to survive physically. What specific rules would he need to follow? 
  4. (pp. 24-25) What  would Coates need to do to survive psychologically? How much of his thinking day did Coates need to devote to survival? What should he have been thinking about instead?
  5. (p. 25-26) Why did Coates resent the schools of his youth even more than he resented the streets?
  6. (pp. 25-26) What was he thinking about in French class?
  7. (p. 27) What secrets about the true purpose of school did he suspect?
  8. (p. 33) How did he come to believe that the schools in his neighborhood were somehow complicit
    in the violence taking place in the streets of West Baltimore?
"I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body. And I began to see these two arms in relation­-- those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, "He should have stayed in school," and then wash its hands of him." (33)

12. (pp. 28-29) Why did Coates (and his family) reject the church?

13. (p. 29) How did the writing sessions imposed on Coates by his mother (when he had done something wrong) begin the boy's true education?

"She also taught me to write, by which I mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation. When I was in trouble at school (which was quite often) she would make me write about it. The writing had to answer a series of questions: Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher? Why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect? How would I want someone to behave while I was talking? What would I do the next time I felt the urge to talk to my friends during a lesson? "  (29)

14. (p. 30) What books from his father's library captured Coates' imagination?

15. (p. 32) Why did Coates resent the MLK Jr. ceremonies at his school?
16. (p. 33) Why does Coates resent calls for poor teens to take personal responsibility for their lives? How does he connect gang violence to social injustice

17. (pp. 34-35) What was it about Malcolm X that inspired Coates when he was a junior and senior in high school in the early 1990's?

"Here was all the angst I felt before the heroes of February, distilled and quotable. "Don't give up your life, preserve your life," he would say. "And if you got to give it up, make it even-steven." This was not boasting-- it was a declaration of equality rooted not in better angels or the intangible spirit but in the sanctity of the black body. You preserved your life because your life, your body, was as good as anyone's, because your blood was as precious as jewels, and it should never be sold for magic, for spirituals inspired by the unknowable hereafter. You do not  give your precious body to the billy clubs of Birmingham sheriffs nor to the insidious gravity of the streets. Black is beautiful-- which is to say that the black body is beautiful, that black hair must be guarded against the torture of processing and lye, that black skin must be guarded against bleach, that our noses and mouths must be protected against modern surgery. We are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder."

"I loved Malcolm because Malcolm never lied, unlike the schools and their facade of morality, unlike the streets and their bravado, unlike the world of dreamers. I loved him because he made it plain, never mystical or  esoteric,  because his science was not rooted  in  the  actions  of spooks and mystery  gods but in the work of the physical  world. (35-36)

  • Throughout this first section of the book, have you heard Coates mention any of the structural problems which afflicted inner city America during from 1970 until today? 
  • What of globalization and the massive decline of manufacturing jobs? 
  • What have you heard about middle class flight from the city, including 'black flight'? Why not?

The Mecca (pp. 39-71)
  • What intellectual mission did Coates pursue when he arrived at Howard University in the mid-1990's? 
  • How was he inspired by Malcolm to recover the black body from the forces of history and celebrate its beauty? 
  • Then, how did his reading reshape his understanding of African history, human nature and the art of writing? 
  • What did his relationships with women teach him about his own prejudices and the true meaning of manhood?
  1. (pp. 39-41) Coates distinguishes between Howard University and the Mecca, one is a school, the other "... the crossroads of the black diaspora." What is the history of the Howard? In additon to virtually everyone in his own family, what other distingusihed African Americans form Howard's network?  
  2. (pp.39-41) Describe the people in the black diaspora whom Coates came to know on "The Yard" at Howard University. How varied are the potential directions to take in African-American Studies? 

"I first witnessed this power out on the Yard, that communal green space in the center of the campus where the students gathered and I saw everything I knew of my black self multiplied out into seemingly endless variations. There were the scions of Nigerian aristocrats in their business suits giving dap to bald-headed Qs in purple windbreakers and tan Timbs. There were the high-yellow progeny of AME preachers debating the clerics of Ausar-Set. There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt. There were Ponzi schemers and Christian cultists, Tabernacle fanatics and mathematical geniuses. It was like listening to a hundred different renditions of "Redemption Song;' each in a different color and key. And overlaying all of this was the history of Howard itself. I knew that I was literally walking in the footsteps of all the Toni Morrisons and Zora Neale Hurstons, of all the Sterling Browns and Kenneth Clarks, who'd come before. The Mecca-- the vastness of black people across space­time-- could be experienced in a twenty-minute walk across campus. I saw this vastness in the students chopping it up in front of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, where Muhammad Ali had addressed their fathers and mothers in defiance of the Vietnam War. I saw its epic sweep in the students next to Ira Aldridge Theater, where Donny Hathaway had once sung, where Donald Byrd had once assembled his flock. The students came out  with their saxophones, trumpets, and drums, played "My Favorite Things" or "Someday My Prince Will Come." Some of the other students were out on the grass in front of Alain Locke Hall, in pink and green, chanting, singing, stomping, clapping, stepping. Some of them came up from Tubman Quadrangle with their roommates and rope for Double Dutch. 


"Some of them came down from Drew Hall, with their caps cocked and their backpacks slung through one arm, then fell into gorgeous ciphers of beatbox and rhyme. Some of the girls sat by the flagpole with bell hooks and Sonia Sanchez in their straw totes. Some of the boys, with their new Yoruba names, beseeched these girls by citing Frantz Fanon.  Some of them studied Russian.  Some of them worked in bone labs. They were Panamanian. They were Bajan. And some of them were from places I had never heard of. But all of them were hot and incredible, exotic even, though we hailed from the same tribe." (39-41)

  1. What does Coates mean when he says that his "world was more than a photonegative of that of the people who believe they are white."(42)  What does he mean when he says, "[white] culture's erasure of black beauty was intimately connected to the destruction of black bodies."
  2. What goal, inspired by his study of Malcolm X, had Coates come to college to fulfill? How did he plan to fill his intellectual trophy case?
  3. (pp. 44-45) What "Malcomlite' myths about African identity did Coates search for in his study of African history to rebut Bellow's quip about" the Tolstoy of the Zulus?" 
  4. (pp. 48-52) What different perspective on African history did Coates learn while reading in Howard's Moorland Library?

"The trouble came almost immediately. I did not find a coherent tradition marching lockstep but instead factions, and factions within factions. Hurston battled Hughes, Du Bois warred with Garvey, Harold Cruse fought everyone. I felt myself at the bridge of a great ship that I could not control because C.L.R. James was a great wave and Basil Davidson was a swirling eddy, tossing me about. Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another. Had we retained any of our African inheritance? Frazier says it was all destroyed, and this destruction evidences the terrible­ness of our capturers. Herskovitz says it lives on, and this evidences the resilience of our African spirit. By my second year, it was natural for me to spend a typical day mediating between Frederick Douglass's integration into America and Martin Delany's escape into nationalism. Perhaps they were somehow both right. I had come looking for a parade, for a military review of champions marching in ranks. Instead I was left with a brawl of ancestors, a herd of dissenters, sometimes marching together but just as often marching away from each other." (48)

  1. What troubles did Coates have with his professors and the classroom experience?
  2. (pp. 49-52) As Coates' world began to branch out to embrace the Washington, DC's African-American literary scene, what did he learn from his conversations with poets, journalists and writers? How did they  redirect his quest to achieve abstract goals like 'reclaiming the black body'?
  3. (p. 51) What did he learn about writing from studying poems like Robert Hayden's "The Middle Passage"?
  4. (p. 51) How did Coates' sense of competing conceptions of African American identity help him shift his mission to breaking "all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere"? He concludes that his "great error was not that I had accepted someone else's dream but that I had accepted the fact of dreams."
"It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own especial Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness. And there was so much terrible out there, even among us. You must understand this." (52)
  1. (p. 53) As an example of a myth breaking truth, Coates describes the vicious police force which serves the predominantly African American suburbs of Prince George's county. What point is Coates making about human nature in general?
  2. (p. 56) How did Coates' bleak conception of human nature sit with the sense of tribal solidarity he felt with fellow students on "The Yard"?

"And still and all I knew that we were something, that we were a tribe-- on one hand, invented, and on the other, no less real. The reality was out there on the Yard, on the first warm day of spring when it seemed that every sector, borough, affiliation, county, and corner of the broad diaspora had sent a delegate to the great world party. I remember those days like an OutKast song, painted in lust and joy. A baldhead in shades and a tank top stands across from Blackburn, the student center, with a long boa draping his muscular shoulders. A conscious woman, in stonewash with her dreads pulled back, is giving him the side-eye and laughing. I am standing outside the library debating the Republican takeover of Congress or the place of Wu-Tang Clan in the canon. A dude in a TribeVibe T-shirt walks up, gives a pound, and we talk about the black bacchanals of the season-- Freaknik, Daytona, Virginia Beach--and we wonder if this is the year we make the trip. It isn't. Because we have all we need out on the Yard. We are dazed here because we still remember the hot cities in which we were born, where the first days of spring were laced with fear. And now, here at The Mecca, we are without fear, we are the dark spectrum on parade." (56-57)

  1. (pp. 57-61) What did Coates' first relationships with women teach him about people and himself?
    1. the California girl whose father was from Bangalore
    2. the bi-sexual girl from Pennsylvania with the long dreds (With whom was this girl in love?)
    3. the girl from Chicago who would become his wife
  1. (pp. 62-63) How did Coates get started as a professional writer? How did journalism fit into his life at school? 
"In Moorland I could explore the histories and traditions. Out on the Yard, I could see these traditions in effect. And with journalism, I could directly ask people about the two--or about anything else I might wonder."  (63)
  1. (pp. 69-71) How did Coates respond to the news that his girlfriend had become pregnant? (How did this moment become the most significant one in his development into manhood?)

"The truth of us was always that you were our ring. We'd summoned you out of ourselves, and you were not given a vote. If only for that reason, you deserved all the protection we could muster. Everything else was subordinate to this fact. If that sounds like a weight, it shouldn't. The truth is that I owe you everything I have. Before you, I had my questions but nothing beyond my own skin in the game, and that was really nothing at all because I was a young man, and not yet clear of my own human vulnerabilities. But I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I now go down, I would not go down alone.


This is what I told myself, at least. It was comforting to believe that the fate of my body and the bodies of my family were under my powers."  (66)

  1. Why did they name thier son Samori? Once he had a son, how did Coates begin to look differently at his own childhood in West Baltimore, at his understanding of the true meaning of slavery in the body of a black woman?

"There was also wisdom in those streets. I think now of the old rule that held that should a boy be set upon in someone else's chancy hood, his friends must stand with him, and they must all take their beating together. I now know that within this edict lay the key to all living. None of us were promised to end the fight on our feet, fists raised to the sky. We could not control our enemies' number, strength, norweaponry. Sometimes you just caught a bad one. But whether you fought or ran, you did it together, because that is the part that was in our control. What we must never do is willingly hand over our own bodies or the bodies of our friends. That was the wisdom: We knew we did not lay down the direction of the street, but despite that, we could-- and must-- fashion the way of our walk. And that is the deeper meaning of your name­- that the struggle, in and of itself, has meaning.


"That wisdom is not unique to our people, but I think it has special meaning to those of us born out of mass rape, whose ancestors were carried off and divided up into policies and stocks. I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves  her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. "Slavery" is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved. She can hope for more. She can imagine some future for her grandchildren. But when she dies, the world-- which is really the only world she can ever know-- ends. For this woman, enslavement is not a parable. It is damnation. It is the never-ending night. And the length of that night is most of our history. Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains-- whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains. (68-69)

Part Two (pp. 73-136)

The Killing of Prince Jones (pp. 73-84)
  1. (p. 73) What ideas fly through Coates' mind after he was pulled over by Prince George's County police?
  2. (pp. 73-74) Why had Coates' literary friends warned him to be especially wary of the police in Prince George's County, a predominantly black area?
  3. (pp. 76-77) What suspicious circumstances surrounded the police killing of Prince Jones?
  4. (pp. 78-79) Coates firmly believes that Prince Jones was killed by his country. How does he support that assertion?
  5. (p. 79) As an atheist, Coates can find no place for forgiveness for the perpetrators of state killing. Why?
  6. (pp. 81-82) Look at the passage in which Coates laments the terrible waste of Prince Jones' good life. What has been sacrificed?
  7. (pp. 82-83) Now a father, how does Coates understand his father's desperate fear which led to his beating of his son?
  8. (p. 84) How does Coates understand the willingness of middle class blacks from P. G. county to tolerate police violence against innocent black men like Prince Jones?

New York City and Fatherhood (pp. 86-97)
  1. (p. 86) What was Coates' reaction to 9/11 in the wake of Prince Jones' killing?
  2. (p. 88) During the early years of Coates' career as a writer, he did not make much money and he was only able to support his family through the help of family and friends. How does that help increase his love for his infant son?
  3. (pp. 90-91) Why did Coates experience such fear while wheeling his young son around Manhattan in a stroller?
  4. (p. 91) Why is Coates terrified during a visit to a pre-school when his four year old boy rushes out to play with kids whom he has never met?
  5. (pp. 92-95) Why was Coates so enraged when a white woman pushed his boy while they were in line at a movie theatre?
  6. (pp. 95-97) Do you agree with Coates in his analysis of the way this woman's actions as typical of the implicit bias that even liberal whites feel towards blacks?

Civil War Battlefields (pp. 99-107)
  1. (pp. 99-103) While visiting Civil War battlefields in Virginia, Coates harshly criticizes the tendency of whites to regard the war as 'tragic'. Why?
  2. (pp. 103-04) When Coates hears Southerners argue that commemorating their fallen heroes is an essential part of their heritage, what is his response?
  3. (p. 104) Read out loud Coates' furious depiction of the reality of slavery for black people. Is he right?
  4. (pp. 104-07) Is Coates right to connect our continuing veneration of Confederate heroes with white condemnation of crime in today's ghettos?

Journalism (pp.108-114)
  1. (pp. 108-111) While visiting the Lawndale neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, Coates reports on the eviction of a black family from their apartment. He connects this humiliating moment to the history of racist real estate practices which segregated blacks in substandard housing and denied blacks the chance to own their own homes and so build wealth over time. Is Coates right to connect these government practices to the terrible black on black crime which plagues this Chicago neighborhood today?
  2. (pp. 111-114) In Cleveland Coates brings his son along to his interview with a woman whose son was killed by a white man who was never charged with a crime. For a moment this woman wonders if her son would still be alive if he had not spoken up to this white man, but then she turns to Coates' boy and urges him to live, to be himself, to wear his hoodie and play his music as loud as he wants. Coates is moved by this advice and ruminates on the terrible 'disembodiment' of blacks caused by racism. What does he mean?

Paris: 2014 (pp. 114-132)
  1. (pp. 114-16) At age 40, Coates takes stock of his life to this point and wonders what the terrified, abused child he was in West Baltimore would think of him as a father and a man. What would this boy think of his escape from the ghetto? What would he think of the fears Coates still has for son's safety?
  2. (pp. 116-119) Coates believes that his study of history has freed him from the desire to pursue the American Dream. Think again about Coates' contention:  is the American  Dream responsible  for the subjugation and ongoing abuse of blacks in America?
  3. (pp. 118-19) When Coates' wife returns from a visit to Paris, she convinces her husband to move to France. What has she discovered in Europe?
  4. (pp. 120-26) Coates describes adapting to life in a new country. How is France so different? Wandering streets where he no longer feels omnipresent fear, Coates laments the life he led in America. What has he been missing?
  5. (pp 126-32) Coates wonders about whether he will ever be able to love his son the way the boy deserves. Why is it so hard for him to express his love for his boy openly?
  6. (pp.126-32) Coates is amazed when he meets a stranger for a lunch where they practice conversing i French and English. Why is he shocked?
  7. (p. 132) How is a black man regarded in France? Is France such an Eden? What history of racism must the French live with?
  8. (p. 132) How does his son see the world with different eyes than he does?
Part Three:

Study Questions:

The Visit with Dr. Jones (pp. 133-52)
  1. (pp. 135-39) Coates decides to explore the void left by the death of Prince Jones, so he gets permission to visit with Jones' mother who lives in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. How had Dr. Jones escaped the impoverished Louisiana neighborhood where she had grown up? How did she do at school? At what sport did she excel? How involved was she at church? How did she pay for college? Why did she join the Navy?
"Mable Jones was always pedal to the floor, not over or around, but through, and if she was going to do it, it must be done to death. Her disposition toward life was that of an elite athlete who knows the opponent is dirty and the refs are on the take, but also knows the championship is one game away." (140)
  1. (p. 140) What kind of life had Dr. Jones provided for her son? Where did he go to school? 
  2. (p. 140) Why had Prince chosen to go to Howard University instead of Harvard, Princeton or Yale, like her mother had wanted? (What did Prince mean by being forced 'to represent'?)
"Even when they succeeded, as so many of them did, they were singled out, made examples of, transfigured into parables of diversity. They were symbols and markers, never children or young adults. And so they come to Howard to be normal-- and even more, to see how broad the black normal really is." (142)
  1. (p. 142) As Dr. Jones speaks of her son's death, Coates remarks upon the similarity of the expression on her face to the expressions he had seen on photos of Civil Rights workers. What does he see?
"Have you ever looked at the faces? The faces are neither angry, nor sad, nor joyous. They betray almost no emotion. They look out past their tormentors, past us, and focus on something way beyond anything known to me. I think they are fastened to their god, a god whom I cannot know and in whom I do not believe. But, god or not, the armor is all over them, and it is real. Or perhaps it is not armor at all. Perhaps it is life extension, a kind of loan allowing you to take the assaults heaped upon you now and pay down the debt later." (142)
  1. (p. 144) Why does Dr. Jones believe that America is like Rome was during the final years before its downfall?
  2. (p. 146) Coates believes that we Dreamers who so conveniently forget our past and in so doing deny the history of slavery, disenfranchisement, and plunder are driven by a belief that we are beyond 'the design flaw of humanity'. How might this flaw ultimately prove fatal not only to the American experiment but to the planet itself?
"We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world." (146)
  1. (pp. 148-52) In his conclusion, Coates d escribes himself wandering amid a crowd of black folk during a Homecoming reunion at Howard University. He thinks to himself that this people, so vulnerable, so breakable, may be essential to America's future survival. How might the fate of the earth itself rest on the shoulders of African-Americans?
"The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos." (152)