Racism and the "American Dream"

Today's blog post was written by UCC East Goshen member, Kyle Yost, in August 2022. Here Kyle reflects on Ta-Nehisi Coates' book "Between the World and Me" and its impact on his own thinking about racism in America:


"Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, tackles the toxic “American Dream” nurtured in the United States, along with the damage it caused African Americans in the past and even today. Writing this book not to the reader, but to his son Samori, Coates is able to convey his thoughts, feelings, and even anger in a way that a typical narrative could not. Repeatedly reinforced throughout his literature is the idea that when discussing race, we learn more from the questions we ask than from the answers we get. Coates slowly develops this method of questioning as he is introduced to his “Mecca”, with access to all the information he could ever need to get a better grasp on racism.


"Coates began his journey at Howard University, which quickly became his sanctuary oasis in the barren desert of the United States. He was able to identify with the student body and ultimately identify with himself. Spending most of his time in the library, Coates read, and read, and read some more. Searching for answers in great figures such as Frazier, Douglass, and Herskovits he promptly discovered little agreement and no answers. Coates writes, “Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another” (47). The information he was taking in was for his own interpretation, there would be no easy solution, answer, or truth. Through these experiences in college, it became clear that there will always be another interpretation of the facts and Coates became accepting of this. “The classroom was a jail of other people's interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself” (Coates 48). The consumption of knowledge allowed Coates to chase the freedom of his black body. How can I live free in my black body? This was the ultimate question that Coates seeked the answer to, but along the journey he began to learn that it was not so much about the answers. The search for the answer and the questions along the way are literally “The Struggle” that Coates defines. Passing this information on to Samori, Coates hopes he will be able to have a jumpstart towards “The Struggle”. Although directed to his son, the reader can also take this information and approach racism with an open mind geared towards questioning.


"When reading this text, I found Coates' identification of the “American Dream” as quite simply my own life. The suburban neighborhoods, Fourth of July parties, cookouts, and pool parties that had always been around me are being identified as the problem with America. I was not sure how exactly I felt about this and since reading Coates' book decided to take a questioning approach. Is my life contributing to racism in the United States? Was being raised in this “Dreamer’ environment negatively influencing others' lives? Aftering thinking it over I came to the conclusion that it is the idea of the “American Dream” that is most at fault. It is the perceived notion that everything is equal, racism does not exist, racism was a problem of the past, that is truly the cancer tainting our society. If everyone would question a little bit more and not accept the answers so easily it would be much clearer to understand that America is far from perfect. We are a nation built on discrimination and racism, and although a lot of work has been done, the black body is obviously far from safe. Coates explains, “To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body” (143). The “Dream” feels safe, away from the dangers of the world, yet the only way to live is to be woken up. As a white individual, I have no struggle comparable to that of Coates or his son. My body is not so easily stolen and I am not fearful of it being stolen everyday. Understanding this, what is my next step? The most interesting insight that Coates has allowed me to see after reading this text, is that I can question as well. I was born into the dream, yet can see and realize it as well. I have awareness that others stuck in “The Dream” do not have, and I think that is the greatest gift that Ta-Nehisi Coates has given me."