Critical Reflection #7 — Between the World and Me
Dear lola (Grandmother),
I know you are now living in the Philippines and have temporarily left your American life behind a couple years ago, but have you heard of the racism towards the minorities, especially towards African-Americans that is still going on today? In my colloquium class, Anthropological Other-ing, I read a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates called Between the World and Me which is a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, Samori, telling him the struggles living in a black body in America. This reminded me of the time you told me about the incidence when you were shopping in a high-end store with my mom and the white saleslady kept following you around the store the entire time. You said you were so uncomfortable and even asked my mom if you two can just go to another store instead because you just knew that the saleslady assumed you could not afford to buy anything there being that you and my mom were the only two Asians in the store. Coates’ belief that even coming from a privileged background could not save a person because of one’s color resonated in me and made me angry because it brought me to your story and your own struggle. You are the strongest person I know despite the struggles you faced raising six children basically on your own and being able to send them all to college even though the circumstances were difficult back in the Philippines. To me, you are a very accomplished woman and to be seen as someone who would steal is absurd. That is why I wanted to write you this letter to show you the struggles of Coates among many other black people he describes in this book.
Coates compares his life with his son’s life, being that his son was able to grow up with a black president and people, like Michael Brown, being killed was an injustice instead of it being a form of racism in America today. He recalls a time when he was a child and he had gone to a playground and was then beaten with a belt by his father after they had found him. Although he did not understand this at first, Coates now realizes and tells his son that “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made” (p. 82). His father had beat him with a belt because he said that it would be him to beat him or it would be the police. Even school did not feel like a safe place for Coates. He felt like school’s only purpose for him was to escape being thrown into jail or even dying in the streets instead of actually receiving education.
The author repeatedly talks about his friend Prince Jones from his college who was killed by an officer for the accusation that Prince had tried to run him over on his way to see his fiancée that night. Coates was enraged and even more when the investigation was centered around Prince instead of the policeman who was able to walk away from this without charge. That policeman was just one example of America’s beliefs about black people. The author fears that if this can happen to an appealing and well-brought-up man like Prince, then there is no saving his son from something like this to happen to him as well. For example, when Samori was still young, Coates had taken him to a show in the Upper West Side of New York when a white woman pushed him, telling a kid to hurry up going down the escalator. Like any parent would be, the author’s reaction was to protect his child and defend him from this woman. A group of white people then gathered around the white woman and defended her, telling Coates that they could get him arrested while his son was standing near, watching the whole event happen. He knew that a “mistake” like yelling at that white woman could have caused him his life, and making mistakes as such can lead to terrible consequences for many other black people.
Because of such reasons, he did not believe in “the Dream”. Knowing you, grandma, to come America with your kids, the goal is to fulfill your own American Dream. I cannot blame you because like you, Coates first desired to have this as a kid too, living in a suburban neighborhood and hosting barbeque parties as seen on T.V. However, it seemed to be a far reach for him. He mentions that those who are white saw this as being comfortable and something they earned, shutting their eyes to the obvious privilege and advantages of being white and the fact that they are being racists. The author also says, “But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them if you are so moved” (p. 151). Grandma, by this he is telling his son to not show the Dreamers the struggles, but for them to learn themselves that their Dream is creating a deathbed for everyone.
In Kids Club, my community partner, many, if not all, of the kids come from low-income, immigrant families in which some parents are undocumented. The parents and kids, too, face the struggles of being undocumented and not being fluent in English because they are seen as less in the community and as “criminals” in the news. However, Coates is saying that the struggle is worth it. Each person’s struggle does not have to be just one person’s struggle. Family and the community are important to share this with, just like how Coates is telling Samori that he knows and understands the struggle and that he will always be by his side.