The Unanswerable Question isn’t some math problem
Letters are one of the purist art forms. It’s so personal; I think when we write we show ourselves through words. When we talk we can leave things out, we can decide what to say or not say. When we write, we really let go of our inner most thoughts to the person of trust on the other side. “And you know now, if you did not know before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body” (9). I think that is why he wrote a letter to his son. He wants to explain his story and the lessons he learned along the way of how life is and how it shouldn’t be. I wanted to quote the whole page, it provides a visual at how those of color were horribly mistreated because of the discourse against them. He wants to protect his son and his body, but he also wants to inform his son of the real world. Living as an African American man in America was not safe. “I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself” (12). Coates explains that the American Dream is one of grand theories and making the world extraordinary. America is the work of men, not of God, states Coates. How can someone make America so great with so much hate in the world. “I knew that my portion of the American galaxy, where bodies were enslaved by a tenacious gravity, was black and that the other, liberated portion was not” (21). Racism is the creation of social system, Coates fights to state that is in not a white or a black issue of who started it first. “Our teachers urged us toward the example of freedom marchers, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summers, and it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera” (32). Coates explains his dislike for Black History Month because they weren’t portrayed the way he was living them. Racism is a social issue, and it must be resolved through those same social systems. Coates states, “How could the schools valorize men and women whose values society actively scorned?” (32). Black History Month is to honor those who fought the social system for rights, but the way that it was fought for in the school system is not portrayed correctly according to Coates. It is a month of remembrance, but racism is still being fought against, it is still happening, it is present day. “Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream” (33). Coates explains how Black History Month is a pathetic attempt at saying sorry for the damage. On the other hand, Coates enjoys Malcom X’s honesty. Malcom X is the hero that doesn’t have to be imagined. “This was not boasting, it was a declaration of equality rooted not in better angels or the intangible spirit but in the sanctity of the black body” (35). Coates enjoyed how Malcom X spoke for everyone; you make life good for yourself because it is your life. It is the same as everyone else’s, not because it’s made of dirt or of jewels. Humans are humans and we should treat ourselves as such.
Coates does a great job of explaining that Black History Month is a hallmark pass through history. It was America’s way of saying that they made a mistake but let’s move on because they dedicated a whole month of remembrance to those times. “But this banality of violence can never excuse American, because America makes no claim to the banal” (8). I had to look up the word banal, which means to lack so much in originality that it is obvious and boring. Or at least that’s my understanding. “All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible” (9) . So in this quotation, Coates states that America really has no excuse for its unoriginal violence (which happens everywhere against some sort of “other”), because America never took the blame for its history. “Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism- the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them — inevitably follows from this inalterable condition” (7). Racism will carry on, even to the world of good intentions, where the Dream is achievable, and to the modern world.
The Dream is a confusing phrase. The so-called American Dream talked in literature countless times is getting ahead, getting a career, a house, a family, and living a long healthy life with an emphasis on a strong career. It’s the Dream that we will amount to something and have all of this hard work pay off. However, the Dream Coates explains is hard to depict. He states, “Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream” (33). Coates explanation of the Dream is the American Ideal that everyone is able to receive equal opportunity, freedom, and nonviolence. But it is still only described as the Dream, not something that’s tangible. It depends on the perspective you see. America, even now, is described as the land of open opportunities, where you can live a better life for you and your family. And it can be, we have many resources that can be spread around. But when you actually get here from either another country or born here with a darker color than white, that land of opportunities has the ability to quickly die down. The Dream is perspective, it depends on who is looking at what angle. Venetia Valley is full of students, some who want to try and succeed with all of the programs offered, I see others who really don’t care and who would rather be playing video games. I know that if you are young, no matter what situation you are in, you have a dream. I hope the students at Venetia Valley follow their dream and turn it into whatever they want it to be. They are young, and although it is important, they may not know their dream yet. For the students who are known to slack off, or not listen, they haven’t been struck by their motivation.
I have a friend from elementary school that I still keep in touch with. She was adopted from Sierra Leone. I watched the video that her father took of her when he arrived to take her home. Although there was a war going on, the people of her tribe were dancing and singing because they were so excited for her to come to the new country, away from the war, and with a family. Her biological twin brother and mother both died during birth, and the father was unknown. She just recently got her American Citizenship. She has been here since 1993, and in 2013 she received her citizenship. It just reminds me how many amazing people there are in the world, so much talent and intellect. Thinking of my friend or any number of my friends really, reminds me how lucky I am to be exactly where I am. I have great parents, a great sister, and I’m on track to live out my dream of being a nurse. If I was born anywhere else, or any who else with less opportunity than I have ever have, I honestly would not have the personal motivation to get my butt up and go find that opportunity. I enjoyed Coates’ interpretation of the Dream; our world came from a world of hate, and there is still so much hate. We are fighting for the gay people, transgenders, Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the homeless. Coates reminds me that we have come a long way, there is no excuse for the violence, and that the question of why will never be answered, but that there is always a fighting chance.