Reading Questions on Coates (pp. 1-39)

1.) Through saying “race is the child of racism, not the father,” Coates is drawing attention to the more social aspects of race embedded within American Culture (Coates 7). Coates’ claim here isn’t as simple and wholistic as the similar “one race, the human race” claim we often hear these days. However, this touches upon what I believe Coates is trying to say here. Coates doesn’t necessarily think racism evolved from the massive divide between two drastically different peoples. Rather, Coates is drawing attention to the similarities between African Americans and white Americans. We are all just humans, and the differences between us are less drastic than what we’ve made ourselves believe. Herein lies Coates’ main point. With the entrapment and enslavement of any group, it is, in a way, necessary to dehumanize them. How can we, as humans, enslave our brothers and sisters? This is how racism evolved, as a mechanism to dehumanize those who needed to be dehumanized for the “sake of the nation”. From here, Coates’ definition of race emerges. The establishment of racism required us to differentiate between the races. It required us to draw harsh and immovable lines separating what is African American and what is “white”. Lines that we otherwise shouldn’t have drawn. This is what Coates means. Yes, we all started off different. However, in drawing these lines, we engrained a new and harsh notion of race that revolves mostly around perspective, not reality.

2.) Coates focuses on the body a lot in this section. One example of this is right at the beginning, when Coates describes a news show asking him “what it meant to lose [his] body” (5). Another example occurs on page 9 when Coates tells his son that police officers are “endowed with the authority to destroy [his] body” (9). I think Coates focuses on the body here due to the literalness and reality of the situations he’s describing. Coates is commenting on police brutality and American racism and injustice, things that do, in fact, destroy African American bodies. More importantly, I also think that Coates uses the term “body” so much because he wants to separate the body from the mind and soul. If we look back on that quote from page 9, Coates likely wouldn’t have said “the authority to destroy you”. This is because the destroying of one’s body is separate from the destroying of one’s character. Just by writing this book, Coates is demonstrating how a body can be destroyed but a soul can be preserved. Coates doesn’t want his son to think the destruction of his body should break his spirit and chain him down to the conformity that has plagued African Americans for centuries. White Americans have used violence to control African Americans before. I think in writing on the body exclusively, Coates is warning his son about this and asking him to maintain his ambition.

3.) Coates comments on the dream, saying that, when the journalist asked him about his body, “it was like she was asking [him] to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream” (11). Coates’ description of lawns and white fences following this sentence makes it clear that Coates is, in fact, commenting on the American dream. However, Coates takes an interesting approach to this. In Coates’ eyes, the American dream is much more of a deception than an ambition. Similarly to the deception of race mentioned in question one, the American dream is an illusion that plagues white Americans. It is only white Americans who get to live this American dream. Coates later mentions that the dream rests on the backs of African Americans, once again exposing the dream as an illusion that favors white people and enslaves African Americans. Coates also chooses to emphasize the dream, which could be a separate allusion to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. This dream of equality has not yet been materialized, though.

4.) I found it interesting that Coates brought up faith as something to be denounced. Coates notes that “some time ago, [he] rejected magic in all its forms” (12). This is interesting to me as African American christianity was hugely important in the early stages of America, and I think that’s still a trend in today’s day and age. I like how Coates denounces it, though. His reluctancy to believe in a higher power also shows his reluctancy to remain complacent. Coates won’t take a beating in his life and justify it through a “good afterlife”.

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