For the American Dream to be a functional system “the body” must be submerged in physical, mental, and spiritual violence. The bodies submerged, more often than not, belong to Black men, women, and children. Submersion is inescapable. The United States law enforcement, as protectors of the Dream, have shown us time after time that regardless of the societal status attained, any “body” can be reduced to nothing and be denied rights allegedly guaranteed to all citizens. As you read Coates Between the World and Me and ultimately finish, you should come to realize that the American Dream affords some a bubbled space of unconsciousness as it simultaneously cost others their life. – MC
Between the World and Me – Breach and Rapture
“I have spent much of my studies searching for the right question by which I might fully understand the breach between the world and me” (p. 115)
“And I saw what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do. In America, the injury is not in being born with darker skin, with fuller lips, with a broader nose, but in everything that happens after.” (p. 120).
Q. Coates speaks of a “breach between the world and me”. Do you sense a similar breach? How can the process of ‘naming’ be an injury? What are other examples of this?
In what way does this breach or non-breach connect to your dreams and to the way Coates frames the Dream in his novel?
“The changes have awarded me a rapture that comes only when you can no longer be lied to, when you have rejected the Dream” (p. 116)
Q. Coates suggests that there is rapture in rejection of the Dream? Agree/disagree and why?
What messages about America are embedded in this photo? What would this mirror reflect back about America?
In what way/s can you relate to this photo? Is this what Coates is talking about when he says not everyone has access to the Dream? What is the American Dream?
“I judged them against the country I knew, which had acquired the land through murder and tamed it under slavery, against the country whose armies fanned out across the world to extend their dominion. The world, the real one, was civilization secured and ruled by savage means” (p. 32).
Q. What does Coates mean by civilization by savage means? What are examples that you can think of this happening in the world around you? Where is the evidence for this claim in the history of America?
“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.” (p. 52).
Q. How does education – formal, informal, self-education – connect to the Dream?
Q. Explore the notion of the “comforting myths” about America? How does facing terribleness connect us with our own humanity? What myths do we need to face as a nation?
Q. How can we make room for each other’s humanity?
“I believe in the power of awkward conversations to initiate change. When we can talk with and laugh with (instead of at) each other, then we can slowly figure out ways to make more room for each other’s humanity. I just want the show to initiate new conversations and spur dialogue across ideological lines, socio-economic lines, and also across generations….I want the audience to feel entertained, but also a little bit (or a lot bit depending on the episode) informed. And if the audience then takes that information to someone in their lives to talk to them about it, then mission accomplished” – K. Bell
The Dream and Trump’s Dream of ‘Making America Great Again’
In BTWM, Freddie Prince’s mother compares America to Rome as she tells Coates: “They [America’s glory days] had been built on the bodies of others. And we can’t get the message. We don’t understand that we are embracing our deaths” (p. 144).
What does she mean by equating America’s ‘glory days’ to embracing our deaths?
Explore Trump’s mantra of Making America Great Again in the context of the Dream according the Coates.
Coates and Baldwin
Coates was inspired by James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew. Read Baldwin’s letter, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and compare both of their notions of the Dream, the body and being black in America.
The Body, the Dream and Mass Incarceration **(Also, see the BODY Discussion link)
“The Dreamers accept this as the cost of doing business, accept our bodies as currency, because it is their tradition. As slaves we were this country’s first windfall, the down payment on its freedom. After the ruin and liberation of the Civil War came Redemption for the unrepentant South and Reunion, and our bodies became this country’s second mortgage. In the New Deal, we were their guestroom, their finished basement. And today, with a sprawling prison system, which has turned the warehousing of black bodies into a jobs program for Dreamers and a lucrative investment for Dreamers; today, when 8 percent of the world’s prisoners are black men, our bodies have refinanced the Dream of being white. Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value” (p. 131-132).
Q. How does Coates use the metaphor of the body as currency to explain the birth and rise of America? What about how native bodies were also used as currency; what would they be in his metaphor?
Have students discuss this photo in class? Can the POC in this class relate to the photo? Is this what Coates is talking about when he says not everyone has access to the American Dream? What is the American Dream?
What is the difference to MLK’s Dream and Coates’ Dream? Is there a difference?