Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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How does Coates's version of "the Dream" in Between the World and Me differ from idealized media versions?

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Ta-Nehisi Coates's version of "the Dream" is for black Americans to have access to the same life, opportunities, and success given to white Americans. He acknowledges the difficulties of attaining this dream due to racist influences, communicating them in a letter to his son. On the other hand, the American Dream rests on the idealistic believe that anyone with ambition and dedication can achieve success, regardless of racial, social, and religious background.

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To Coates, as described in Between the World and Me , the "Dream" that most of the popular media and other outlets foster is that of the lovely house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, two children, and everything "peppermint and strawberry shortcake": a dream of purity and...

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happiness. Buttressing this dream is another dream that Coates says is a lie, the dream that everyone, including black people, has fair shot at the American dream.

Coates differs from the average American, especially white Americans, in how he perceives this American dream, recognizing that it has been achieved through slavery and genocide and can't be divorced from those foundational realities. He says it is built on “bedding made from [black] bodies.” It is built too on the exclusion of black people: even in seemingly diverse places like New York City, the law is on the side of white society and will keep black people in their place so that the white dream can go on unimpeded.

Coates says the dream in which the fortunate and affluent whites live (he calls these people Dreamers) exists not only because they have money and privilege but because they cultivate an "innocence" that allows them to believe their comfortable lives have nothing to do with black suffering. As he puts it, these Dreamers can quote Martin Luther King with approval while at the same time voting to do away with government services badly needed in black municipalities. To Coates, the American Dreamer engages in a form of double think that systemically excludes black people, kills black people, and controls black bodies while at the same time denying it is doing so in order to keep up its illusion of purity and widespread opportunity.

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It is important to note the nature of Coates's Beyond the World and Me, in which he expresses his sadness surrounding the obstacles faced by black Americans. He addresses a letter in novel form to his son, recognizing that he will not be awarded the same opportunities as white Americans.

The following quote is representative of this concept in the novel:

The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world.

For Coates and all black Americans, the Dream for the next generation is simple: to have access to the ways of live to which white Americans are more easily provided. In this quote, Coates refers to how luxuries like tree houses and Cub Scouts are for the most part inaccessible to black children due to adverse economic circumstances, discrimination, and lack of adequate education in their communities.

"To fold my country over my head like a blanket" reflects his wish for black Americans to have access to the same support and protection awarded to their white counterparts. In particular, he refers to highly publicized killings of blacks by police officers.

While white Americans can more easily move through the ranks of society, black people face more socioeconomic obstacles. Coates refers to the historical basis of this inequality in reference to slavery: the reality in which black Americans' ancestors literally rests on their backs, having been forced into manual labor.

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