In Between the World and Me, what is “the Dream” to which Ta-Nehisi Coates refers?

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jules-cordry eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Dream” is how author Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to the idea of the American dream, and it forms one of the major themes of his book Between the World and Me. (To read about more of the book's major themes, check out the eNotes study guide.) Coates leaves the word “American” out of the phrase to show that this dream is one that not all Americans—particularly Americans who are not white—believe in or have access to; those who do believe in the Dream he calls “Dreamers.” He describes the Dream in the following way:

It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.

Coates argues that this innocent-seeming fantasy of suburban prosperity is built on the oppression of African Americans and minorities. Dreamers—some of whom are ignorant of the full extent of racial injustice and some of whom choose to actively participate in it—have yet to “wake up” to the reality that it is racism, mass incarceration, and violence that keep the Dream alive. Coates further connects the way the American Dream is built on racial injustice to the way the US itself was built on slavery. For him, “Dreaming” is impossible, and he tries to impart the insight he has gained into the harsh reality of the Dream to his teenage son, Samori. “And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket,” he confesses. “But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

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Between the World and Me

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