Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Part 3 Summary

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Last Updated June 22, 2023.

In the years following the death of Prince Jones, Coates thought often of those whom Jones had left behind. Eventually, he contacted Jones’s mother and made an appointment to meet with her. She lived in an affluent, gated community and greeted Coates at the door. He found Dr. Jones warm, polite, and well-composed, especially considering the subject of Coates’s visit. Coates felt that his presence had spread sadness over the house like a dark quilt. 

Dr. Jones began by giving Coates a bit of her own history. She grew up in a region of Louisiana where her own ancestors were once enslaved. As she faced segregation on buses when she was four, she became aware of fear and the “chasm” which separated her from whites. When she looked around at her father’s sharecropper life, she determined that she wasn’t going to live like that; the “iron” in her eyes as she related this determination reminded Coates of his own grandmother, who had worked hard to propel herself out of the projects and into home ownership. 

Dr. Jones made a pact with another girl in second grade that they would both become doctors. She first had to integrate into the white high school, and the other students met her with insults when she arrived. By her senior year, they voted her class president. She still felt a chasm between her world and theirs, listening to them yelling racist slurs at high school football games while sitting right beside her, acting as though she really wasn’t there. 

She went to college on a full scholarship and then went to medical school at Louisiana State University. After that, she served in the US Navy and began studying radiology. She didn’t know any other Black radiologists, and when Coates mentioned that this must have been difficult for her, she was insulted by the assumption. She said that this mindset “sanctified tribal expectations when the only expectation that mattered should be rooted in an assessment of Mable Jones.” 

She called her son, Prince, “Rocky” in honor of her grandfather, who went by “Rock.” Prince made friends wherever he went, including his elite private schools filled with Dreamers. Prince was smart, like his mother. In high school, he was admitted to a competitive magnet school for math and science and was the only Black child to attend. 

Dr. Jones never wanted her son to go to Howard. She wanted him to attend Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Columbia. However, her son chose Howard because he was tired of having to “represent to other people.” Like so many other Howard students, he wanted to experience being “normal” and to see how diverse the Black normal really is.

When Coates asked Dr. Jones if she regretted her son’s choice of college, she audibly gasped and noted that she only regretted “that he is dead.” 

She had been asleep when the phone rang at 5 a.m., telling her that her son had been shot and that she needed to come to Washington. She drove with her daughter, fully believing that her son was still alive. When she arrived at the ICU, a group of professionals met to tell her that her beloved Rocky was already gone. This realization made her physically ill, and she thought she was dying herself.

She believed that her son’s shooter would be charged. She expected fairness, and her voice was full of the pain of those unfulfilled expectations.

“One racist act. It’s all it takes,” Dr. Coates told Coates. She recalled the life she had provided for her son. He had taken annual ski trips...

(This entire section contains 839 words.)

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and spent time in Europe. Although her son had always shunned material treasures, she bought him a Jeep for his twenty-third birthday—the same Jeep he was shot in. 

Coates reminds his son that he cannot plan his life around the possibility that the Dreamers will awaken and realize their impact on the world. He tells him that he must live for so many things, and not just in other people’s countries. 

Black power exists as a “kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors.” Even the Dreamers feel it; therefore, they reach for Billie and Mobb Deep and Dr. Dre and Aretha. Coates asserts that Black people have “made something down here.” The Dreamers may have made Black people a race, but they have made themselves a people. 

Malcolm X and his followers believed that the Dreamers would eventually reap what they have sown. Coates sees this as too “pat,” realizing that “we would reap it right with them.” After all, the Dreamers now plunder not just the bodies of Black people but the earth itself.

Coates tells his son that they cannot stop the Dreamers, for the Dreamers must ultimately stop themselves. However, he also encourages Samori to keep struggling for the memory of his ancestors, for wisdom, for his grandparents, and for his name. But he should never struggle for the Dreamers.


Part 2 Summary