Knowing Your Roots

What? Coates’ writes this book in the form of a letter addressed to his son, who is reaching that age of adolescence where he is starting to grapple with large scale issues such as race, and what living as an African-American boy is like in this day and age. He uses this format to teach his son about the things he learned growing up, and through this letter format, it feels more like a personal conversation rather than a lecture. Coates tackles the idea of racism in this statement: “And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy (8).” He then continues on in another paragraph that, “America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization (8).” He wants his son to understand that racism is an issue, especially for someone “living in a black body”, and it is also heavily rooted in America’s history and America’s view of dominance. Coates also speaks on how violence is showcased during Black History month, which puts a negative light on this month of remembrance. It was also ironic, because they only showed violent acts that didn’t seem to be what these people really wanted (in the films that they watched). Coates also said, “How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were, and then speak of nonviolence (32)?” He spoke on Malcolm X and how he idolized how he spoke his mind. The statement that caught my eye showcased Coates’ idea of being empowered in who you were. Coates wrote, “You preserved your life because your life, your body, was as good as anyone’s, because your blood was as precious as jewels, and it should never be sold for magic, for spirituals inspired by the unknowable here-after.”

So what? He emphasizes that these “good intentions,” while good, do not seem to help progress the lives of African-Americans. Good intentions meant nothing if progress wasn’t made and if social issues weren’t changed. The Dream — successful job and income, white picket fences, etc. — was preserved through the work of people as a whole practically turning a blind eye to the oppression and hardships African-Americans faced.

At my community partner site, the Dream is portrayed through long — term goals of graduating and college. Each grade is continuously reminded of their year of graduating, and the programs provided for these kids push these kids for a brighter future, whether they’ll be a first generation student or fourth generation student in getting an education.

Now what? With my parents coming from the Philippines and constantly pushing my brother and I to do well in school so that “we don’t have to struggle like they did,” I see the Dream as both a blessing and a curse that unfortunately in this day and age will continue to stay a Dream only because current hardships have made it quite difficult to reach that level of stability. You always hear students complain about being in debt, you hear people being worried about being laid off from their jobs or struggling to make rent for their homes, or rent is increasing and they have to find a cheaper place to live, and the list goes on and on.

In relating Coates’ critique to education, I believe that the point he is trying to get across is that education can only teach you so much, and if you want to know more, you must actively search for your answers (ex. When he took his trips to the library). “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.” He implies that there is so much room for growth and learning outside of the classroom because in the classroom, you learn what the instructor teaches you and tells you through their lens. But outside, you are free to explore whatever you desire. As a student, I view it as understanding that while education can be a stepping stone to enhancing your knowledge, you must also gain knowledge outside of the four walls of a classroom. There is no boundaries to gaining information, but only acquiring information through lectures won’t make you well-rounded. Learning doesn’t always have to come from books, and you can never have too much information, right?