What is the Dream and who are the Dreamers, according to Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me?

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The "Dream" is several things to Coates. On one level, it is simply the "American Dream," which is that anyone can achieve affluence (usually defined by consumption) with hard work. It is a sort of middle-class ideal, one that Coates describes as "treehouses and Cub Scouts. It "smells like peppermint...

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The "Dream" is several things to Coates. On one level, it is simply the "American Dream," which is that anyone can achieve affluence (usually defined by consumption) with hard work. It is a sort of middle-class ideal, one that Coates describes as "treehouses and Cub Scouts. It "smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake." So, more generally, the Dream is the American self-image as a free and democratic people.

Coates refers to people who believe in this dream as "Dreamers" and argues, in short, that their belief is contrary to lived experience. He observes that not only is the Dream not accessible to African American men and women but that, ultimately, it is actually built upon their backs. The "Dream" depends upon the oppression of black bodies. Therefore, as he writes, it is "the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing."

The believers argue that it is attainable with hard work and perseverance, and Coates believes that this is not only delusional but actually dishonest. To accept the Dream is to willingly embrace a lie. It means looking away from persistent discrimination, violence, and degradation in order to embrace a vision of the United States as a place of freedom and justice for all. Coates points out that the acceptance of the Dream is also the negation of the black experience, both historical and present day. Therefore, it stands in the way of full black participation in society as equals. This is because the Dream is the story the American people tell themselves about their country, and to question it by pointing out the ways racism operates in American society is to push against the ideological foundations of the nation.

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According to the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the "Dream" is a mixture of the dreams set forth by enterprising minority leaders who are trying to better their people. This includes the ideas in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, Langston Hughes "Dream Deferred", Native American dreams and ideologies for the nation, and more.

The overarching idea is that these minority groups, who have experienced oppression or feel they are not welcome in this land (as is relevant to the immigrants that Coates includes in his memoir) are trying to improve their lot and gain strength and prominence. The "Dreamers" are just that—those individuals in the minority groups, including black people, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, and others who are simply trying to stake a claim to a portion of the American Dream and rise up above their station, as well as the white Americans who believe that, through hard work, anyone is capable of improving themselves and are willing to work alongside anyone, regardless of race, color, or creed.

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In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes the Dream as a general fantasy Americans have about their own wealth and prosperity. The Dreamers are those who conjure up and reify these fantasies. Coates's theorizing of the Dream is ultimately a critique of the idea of the American Dream. The American Dream is rooted in the idea of meritocracy, the belief that hard work is all it takes to succeed. Coates examines how social factors, primarily race, override the idea of meritocracy. He explains how the American Dream is a lie used to the benefit of white America. He says,

The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers.

In this way, minorities are told to believe that their lack of success in America is due to their own inabilities to work hard and achieve. Coates attempts to write a new Dream for Americans in which critical questions are asked and celebrated.

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According to Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his memoir Between the World and Me, "the Dream" is shorthand for the confluence of the American Dream, Dr. King's dream, Langston Hughes's dream deferred, Native Americans' dreams for the planet, and, as of late, the dreams of young immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents and have found themselves in the middle of a political tug-of-war.

Coates argues that the Dream narrative—a belief that Americans have equal access to channels for obtaining prosperity, safety, and individualism—was constructed by the white majority through popular culture as a means of oppressing nonwhites. In short, the Dream narrative refers to a mysterious, vague formula for achieving the American Dream that, like a dream, is actually a figment of the collective imagination.

The dreamers are the Americans, white and people of color, who still believe that hard work, good behavior, and perseverance are all that one needs to achieve the Dream. White dreamers justify systemic and personal racism while people of color internalize the destructive beliefs about themselves due to the shared Dream narrative.

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