Worlds Apart

I am a product of a law enforcement family. I am also identified as a middle class white woman. I am an “average American” by any definition of the term. I have had access to the “American dream” from the beginning.

In the book Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to the “Dream”. He describes it as unworried boys, pie and pot roast, the typical white fence and green lawn. And he also describes that dream as something that he only sees through a television set. Growing up in rural America, I consistently saw this “Dream” come to life. It was one that was considered normal, an attainable goal, a boring one really. But to Coates, it was unattainable and considered a completely different world.

The chance to be a worry-free child wasn’t a chance that was presented to Coates. One

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates

moment in this book that really stuck out to me and showed me this was when he described a method his grandmother employed. Whenever he got in trouble at school she would have him write about it. Why did he do what he did? What would he do the next time? I fully expected Coates to state that this was an effective method of fixing his behavior, but he said exactly the opposite. He stated that this showed him at an early age that no one is innocent, including himself. He states; “She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing – myself.” Coates learned at an early age not to be naïve and to take responsibility for all actions, and to believe that others should do the same. He matured in this aspect much quicker than many other children.

This book is written as a letter to Coates’ fifteen year old son. While his son has had the opportunity to grow up in a different world than his father, he’s still witnessed the injustices that are upon a black man in modern day America. Coates described growing up as a constant state of awareness, he was always expected to be defending himself. But there was certain situations he was also expected to not defend himself. What was going too far? And what wasn’t going far enough? Not knowing the difference could be fatal in his world.

Coates states that his son lives in a different world than he did, there are certain ways of life that his son will never have to default to. But that doesn’t mean his son doesn’t still see the evils that face members of his generation. Coates discusses his son’s reaction to learning that the man responsible for the death of Michael Brown would go free. He simply stated that he had to go and left the room Coates decided in this moment no to comfort his son, but to explain to him that this was the kind of evils he was to expect from this world. There is injustice in this world, and that was something that his son needed to recognize. We need to recognize the problems before we can fight to find a solution.

As I stated before – I am the product of a law enforcement family. I have come to realize over the years that this gives me a different view on several issues. I don’t only have the class that society has assigned me to or the color of my skin. I also have my last name. My last name has always meant something to other people growing up, it meant that I was the product of being raised by a police officer. I was immune to trouble, but the people surrounding me were susceptible to it. It didn’t matter if this was true, it was how I was seen. And my view of law enforcement was always an admirable view. They protect us, they help us, they would never do us wrong. My world was a different world from many others, such as Coates and his son.

“Fully 60 percent of all young black men who drop out of high school will go to jail. This should disgrace the country. But it does not…” [1]

This sentence really hit me. Why aren’t we ashamed of the number of our citizens that we are letting down? Why aren’t we ashamed that we aren’t fighting to give everyone the opportunity to equal resources? Why doesn’t this bother us as a country? After reading this book, I believe that the reason it doesn’t bother us as a country is that in many ways we aren’t united. We are divided on many topics, and we all seem to be living in different worlds within the same country.

The main question now is – how do we change this? How do we fight to unite our country and allow everyone the same opportunities? This is an answer we have yet to find.

1 – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

5 thoughts on “Worlds Apart

  1. This book also made me think about how my background, as a white woman and as someone raised by two lawyers, influenced how I think about the police and about racial issues. In general, white people need to be more aware of how police and society treat black people. I think white people need to think of mass incarceration, not as someone else’s problem, but as their problem too.

  2. The amount of information that he presented that we should be ashamed of is incredible. I never knew any of these statistics growing up and I wonder if change might be sparked by opening a dialogue with these statistics. They are so easy to ignore or never come into contact with that the issues associated go ignored as well.

  3. I think you have a really good point that we are “living in different worlds within the same country.” Like you, many of the experiences that Coates describes are completely foreign to me and my experiences and difficult for me to imagine. I think the first step to solving this problem is empathy. If we were more empathetic, then perhaps we would care more about issues affecting those whose experiences differ from our own and would work to find a solution.

    1. I agree. I was struggling to digest the text until about a third of the way in, Coates makes a remark to his son about how the black women he knows will experience a challenge that he will never fully understand. That was the foundational connecting moment for me. My frustrations with men never understanding the challenges they put women through is not that different that Coates’ frustrations with white people about the challenges they put black people through. The challenges are different, the ramifications are different, but the inability for the dominant people to understand the struggles of those whose freedom they take away is the same. Finding those connections and developing that empathy is essential in combating the inequalities we are the products and producers of.

  4. I think that your viewpoint on this work is very interesting. I grew up in a similar manner, and in the past was very ignorant and uninformed of the struggles that others face on a day-to-day basis. This book really opened my eyes to the injustices faced that many average Americans do not understand and sometimes choose not to consider. I believe we are a divided nation, and we have a long way to go before we solve any of the questions you have stated.

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