Race and Racism
Race and racism are two of the central themes of Between the World and Me. Unlike many scholars, Coates believes that race derives from racism, not the other way around. In other words, he believes that the desire to hate others in order to improve one's own status requires that there be an "other," a race "inferior" to one's own. Thus, the desire to be rich drove plantation owners to reduce their black slaves to possessions, strip them of their rights, and deny their humanity. It was the construct of race that enabled these plantation owners to believe that slavery was good and owning slaves wasn't evil.
America was founded on racism, fueled by the labor of slaves that made it possible for white people to live the Dream. Over a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery (except as punishment for a crime), black people are still oppressed, relegated to ghettos, and imprisoned at disproportionate rates. What's more, this history weighs on every black American. Coates learned how to bear this burden, and now he hopes to teach his son to do the same through this letter.