The Dream.

“The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers” (50). First of all, what is “the Dream” (is it the American Dream as we typically know it or something else)? How did the dream come to be over the course of American history? What does this quote mean for our community on campus and more broadly as a nation?

23 responses

  1. Throughout the book, Coates refers to the American Dream as an addictive fantasy that spurs the enslavement and usurpation of black bodies and the environment. He writes: “Plunder has matured into habit and addiction, the people who would author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more” (150). My question is, what does this imply about the nature of a country commonly thought to have this dream at its very heart? Is it rotten to the core? Or is there another dream, not originating with the founding fathers, nor concerned with a “good life” of stolen wealth and tranquility? Coates ends his book on a note of muted doom, but perhaps the very fact that it is a letter to his son, an attempt to help the next generation deal with the injustice of the last, is a hint at a truer Dream, so often perverted.

    • In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates notes the existence of other dreams, but these dreams are as warped in ignorance, generalizations, and the ideas of a “good life” as America’s common Dream. While Coates studies at Howard University, he realizes that he created his own Dream, one where all African Americans symbolize perfection. To him, in his own Dream, African Americans do no wrong, they are only wronged by others. He creates a trophy case of African American culture, just like the whole of America does with their own. Eventually, with the continuation of his studies, Coates notes, “It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own especial Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness” (52). Through his words, it becomes clear that the world contains many dreams. These dreams convey generalizations that try to mask one away from the very truth of humanity, however awful it may be. Coates does imply that all of humanity, not just the country, is terrible, perhaps rotten to the core. Nevertheless, Coates breaks his Dream to find the reality of mankind. This truth may appear rotten, as Coates believes in the passage he writes, but the truth may also be as sweet as a letter to a son. The only way to find the truth is to extinguish all the layers of generalizations and ignorance that comes with the formation of a dream.

      • I completely agree with your standpoint on this. Would you agree with the thought that maybe, in his success with this book, he has also succeeded in crafting his own “American Dream” with the way it redefines the civil rights movement in a sense?

      • Yes, Sydney, I can see how an “American Dream” can arise from Between the World and Me. However, I don’t think Coates purposefully wants to create his own dream, at least not like the dreams he defines in his book. As I mentioned in my comment, Coates thinks negatively about all dreams because of the generalizations they assume to be unequivocally true. If a dream stems from this book, one would hope that it is a dream based on reality, not on generalizations and trophy cases. This dream can focus on the actuality of oppression and the importance of questioning one’s culture and ideals. But, for a dream like this to surface, it will need to come from the steadfast pursuit of readers, not just the words of Coates.

    • The American dream can often be conjured up in to images of wealth, family, safety, white picketed fences, and to have no worries. I think the American dream came to be out of a necessity for society to strive toward a common goal: to have it all and to be the best at what they do. Americans strive to be the best to reach this dream, but this in itself implies that there is a group of people that is not as great. Ta-Nehisi Coates shows a starkly different opinion of the ‘great American dream’, as he refers to it as, “…the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos” (151). This habit ensures that the security and wealth of one group of people is obtained through the “plundering of black bodies.” The American dream can be secured by intentionally stepping on others and stealing their wealth to achieve the goal. The dream can be secured by a “habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.” This does not mean however that this country is rotten to its core. It means that Americans are accustomed to the tradition of “plundering of black bodies.” I believe that if we break this tradition, we can reach the truer dream as you put it. Our country has made a lot of unjust mistakes, but every generation has the chance to change it. This means that through our campus and through our nation, we must start to break these chains of heritage. The question I now pose is, did Coates believe that there is a better dream? If he did, what is it?

      • I think this idea also relates to the fact that in schools history is almost always taught from a white perspective when there were usually so many different viewpoints. This relates to how the American dream definitely has a “whiteness” attached to the idea of it.

    • I think that the fact that America was founded on the genocide and enslavement of people who were not white, and yet is not acknowledged as such is a sign that perhaps America is not rotten to the core, but that the privileged class (white people) live in a state of complicit oblivion and systemic racism. This problem of centuries of progress at the cost of millions of lives is not something easily solved, and Coates’ feeling of doom and despair is becoming more relevant because there seems to be more obvious problems and less willingness by the privileged class to solve them.

      However, it is also interesting to look at the difference of perception between those who live in America and those who don’t. We still have millions of immigrants fighting to get into our country for our perceived security, stability, and equal opportunity. While these things are not true today, I think a new dream could be for America to live up to the standards other countries may think we have. To truly provide security, stability, and equal opportunity to all its citizens, especially those who have been exploited in America’s conquest for “greatness”.

  2. “The Dream” as described by Coates, differs for white people and “black bodies”. Often, Coates describes “The Dream” of the white people immediately before “The Dream” of the black people. First, Coates states multiple times that the white people merely hold the belief that they are white, due to the process through which blacks were oppressed by whites. Throughout the book, Coates uses juxtaposition of “The Dream” of whites versus “The Dream” of blacks to develop the theme of whites’ control and blacks’ lack of control over their bodies and their lives. Coates argues that, “the process of washing the disparate tribes white…was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs… the rape of mothers; the sale of children”(8). “The Dream” that the white people now live includes “wine tastings and ice cream socials” due to the “flaying”, “chaining”, “rape”, and “sale” of “disparate tribes”. The acts forced upon the black people, “deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies”(8). The most basic of human rights is the ability to control one’s own body, Coates relays to his son that the white American Dream is the cause of their suffering and lack of control over their “own bodies”. The juxtaposition of the cause and effects of the varying American Dreams’ exacerbates the lack of control that Coates describes to his son. Additionally, “The Dream” appears to be “wine tastings and ice cream socials”, when in reality, “The Dream” for black people is the lack of security of “our own bodies” and the hardships that they face in order for the white people to experience “the belief in being white”(8).

    • I also feel that Coates’ presents a stark difference between the Dream for white people and people with black bodies. The American Dream is often seen through the privileged white lens. It is a dream of a nice homes and financial security. But even when a black family, such as the family of Prince Jones, achieves this Dream they are lacking an important component– safety. This hit home for me when Mable Jones described “how her children had been raised in the lap of luxury– annual ski trips, jaunts off to Europe”(145). Once the white population achieves the Dream, safety is a given. But no matter how financially stable or Dreamer-like Prince Jones’ life was, he was never able to gain safety for his body. In this way the Dream is false.
      I have often heard the American Dream described as the ability to achieve stability and success simply through hard work. If this is the case, then the Dream is a false promise used to maintain the status quo. If people believe that a little bit more work, a little bit harder work, can give you better standing then there is no reason to complain. Suddenly, the blame is turned off of the system and unto yourself. If you can’t achieve the Dream it would seem to be your own fault. In reality you are born into this system. Race binds you, socioeconomic class binds you, and the Dream is something that you are born into. The fight for minimum wage is a fight to extend the Dream to a few more people. But bound by race, many people will still be unable to achieve the Dream despite economic status. And so maybe it is time we adopt a new Dream all together?

  3. “A mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below(Glymph). You and I, my son, are that below. That was true in 1776. It is true today. there is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the dream.” (105) This remark by Coates is not only intelligent, but thoroughly thought provoking. Those few lines made me question and analyze what exactly the American dream is, and furthermore, how it is measured. Truthfully, there must always be a lesser group of people to be able to define oneself as “successful”, in the American standard of success. What Coates is saying, is that African Americans over the course of American history have been systemically exploited to be the group which “successful” people can base their level of success on. However, as Coates explains, The American Dream has become conceptualized as some much different. As he puts it, “This is the foundation of the dream- its adherents must not just believe in it it, but believe that it is just, believe that their possesion of the dream is the natural result of grit, honor, and good works.” (98) However, the dream is far more complex and rooted, rather than stemming from ones ambitious, hard working, go getter mindset. Coates instead suggests the dream has been built upon, “the long war against the black body” (96), the horrendous prison systems, and army like police forces. Coates then notes that, “To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown.” (96) The American dream has, and is serving its general function for those seeking “prosperity and success” through hard work, however, the misconceptions of how it came about allows dreamers to see their dream as the sole result of their individual acts. This means, that on campus, rather than accepting a general narrative of American history, we should probe between the lines, delving into the truths that often go untold.

  4. As an immigrant to the United States myself, I have always felt that the Dream is a grossly misinformed ideal. History textbooks write of the States as a mythological promised land, where perfect nuclear families live in perfect suburban homes, where absolutely anyone can employ some degree of hard work in order to achieve their greatest goals. This is an idea that has evolved from the United States’ very beginnings: the original colonies were founded as havens for religious freedom, and, ultimately, a variety of other essential freedoms, as detailed in the Bill of Rights. However, the Dream, in its present form, is grotesquely dependent on the backbreaking labor and crippling injustice faced by the country’s most oppressed populations. Furthermore, it is wholly unachievable for many among these same populations. I believe that Ta-Nehisi Coates is remarkably talented at imparting this sordid truth upon his readers. I like to think of myself as a sympathetic person, and I do my best to actively discourage injustice in all its forms. Yet Coates very cleanly sweeps this vision out from under my feet. On page 98, Coates quotes Solzhenitsyn: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.” In response, Coates writes, “This is the foundation of the Dream – its adherents must not just believe in it but believe that it is just, believe that their possession of the Dream is the natural result of grit, honor, and works” (98). This passage was shocking to me, in that it is so simple and logical, and simultaneously so disruptive to the bubble of my privilege. In forcing me to consider that living the life I was born into could be construed as “evil,” Between the World and Me has deeply impacted my thinking on my own participation in the perpetuation of the Dream. Coates’ comment on page 50 – that “the Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers” – suggests that we must open our own lives up to question, and ask ourselves what parts of our lives we owe to such privileges as “whiteness.” This sort of discourse would enable us to recognize how most all of us are complicit to injustice in some way, and would encourage a broader view of the ways in which our lives as individuals affect whole communities.

  5. 3) I think that to address a concept as broad as “the Dream,” we must first acknowledge the sheer number of angles from which we may attempt to generally define it. By way of a few examples, my personal favorite idea of the American Dream, in accordance with the notion of historical progress, is that each generation may have the opportunity to enjoy a standard of living that is equal to, or greater than, the generation before; to Coates, however, the Dream seems to be a “great reverie” (149) by which “White America” may lull themselves to sleep atop the broken bodies of “Black America,” and which, by the nature of his assumption, could only exist with such an “above” and such a “below,” thereby making it more-or-less racially exclusive—a view I find objectionable, not just because it postulates that progress as I have come to understand it is ultimately, to some degree, in vain, but because it reiterates the same worn notion that the entirety of “White America” is comprised of tyrants, slave-masters, and “majoritarian pigs” (79). In deference to the era in which we presently inhabit, then, I could also postulate an entirely different view of “the Dream,” as such: a postmodern and subjective concept that bears individual meaning to each and every individual that lives upon American soil. If one accepted this definition, then “the Dream” could be re-categorized not as some intangible reverie that is used to elevate one racial group and bury the other, but rather, as something that defines America not in the light of broad categorical strokes across racial lines, but instead, as something almost essential and yet unique, bearing with it all of the hallmarks of individualism upon which the Constitution was penned; in this regard, my “Dream” would not necessarily match your own, because diversity is a bedrock in the American foundation, and in embracing these, we must also accept the different motives, goals, ambitions, desires, longings, wants, yearnings, strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds, and “Dreams” of every individual herein. So, what is “the Dream?” I’ve defined it for me, just as Coates has defined it for him, but to assert further would be to assume that I could speak on behalf of all of America, and as far as I know, I surely may not. And how did the dream come to be over the course of American history? This, again, depends on how you define “the Dream.” Short of writing a few thousand words on the major events of American history—such happenings as its foundation after the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression, the World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, etc.—and all of their related impacts on the socio-economical, socio-political, and socio-cultural tapestry of the nation, I couldn’t provide a full answer to this question; in this purview, the “Dream” as I define it has always existed—it has propelled people to work hard, to strive, to build, to create, to compete, to defend their homes, and to sail from afar just for a chance of making a better life for themselves—and yes, these are general answers, but as I’ve said, we’re dealing with a general topic. To contrast with this, if you’d rather substitute this idea for Coates’ more-directly, yet still-generally, defined caricature of the “Dream,” then how it came to be could ignite a historical back-and-forth that could take up the better part of a day. If the “Dream” is as such: a perpetuation of “White America’s” supremacy over “Black America,” then I suppose we could begin back during the slave trade, in which African slaves were transplanted into the colonial new world en masse—almost entirely into South America, one might add as a digression so as to dispel any vitriolic myths, but that it what it is—and used for labor in all of the detestable brutality that so characterizes the institution of slavery as a whole. As Coates writes, “Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains,” (70). As a brief side-note, because these posts are more-or-less becoming a unified whole, I’ll deal with the notions of American exceptionalism and individualism in the later questions that are posed in regard to them; with that aside, call it pedantic academicism, but Coates is making a bit of a reach insofar as America as an independent nation only existed from July 4, 1776, onwards, and with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, by federal law, all slaves were legally released January 1, 1863. I say legally as such because it is true that not all slaves were freed on that date, let alone knew of their newfound freedom, but the overall point is that slavery within America as an independent nation comprised a minority of its years—roughly 87 of them—and even within those years, the vast majority of Americans never owned slaves, both in the North and the South. In addition, the fact that the Northern states had completely elected to abolish slavery and/or minimize it by 1804 counters Coates’ other assertion that, “Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of the people . . . ” (70). The argument of redemption can be saved for another time; as for the other piece of his text, Coates is, on two accounts, blatantly wrong—that is to say, maybe slavery was not cosmically destined to end, nor generally heading down the road in the South—but when Coates holds America hostage as a whole, and writes with much of the same type of broad generalizations that he decries the “Dream” for possessing, he adheres to a disturbing brand of purely dichotomous thinking in which all members of one racial group are equally guilty of the actions of all of the other members of said group, which is, by his own definition, racist, as evidenced: “Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitability follows from this inalterable condition,” (7). More simply put, because of the actions of groups of “white” individuals, however long ago in the past, all “white” people are guilty; by national extension, this is like declaring that all Germans today are responsible for the atrocities of Hitler, that all Japanese children are culpable for the Rape of Nanking, that all “White Southerners” born today are bathed in the same blood as a fraction of their ancestors, or that all stereotypes might have merit simply because some arbitrary number of members of one group may exhibit a particular behavior. Yes, Nazi America, Imperial Japan, and the Civil War-era Southern United States were all complicit in allowing the behavior of its constituent members to take place, but surely not every individual within those countries shared the burden of evil—Oskar Schindler comes, in particular, to mind—and certainly those that are born many generations thereafter cannot also be held in contempt. But I’ve lamentably veered off-topic again; how did Coates’ “Dream” of the domination of “White America” over “Black America” then take place afterwards? Arguably, the next facet would be Jim Crow segregation, a regretful Southern phenomenon, then racial redlining, so as to keep “Black America” confined to the “killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit” and “White America” complacent in their suburbs, enjoying Sunday barbecues and eating donuts in ignorant—or complicit—glee. Essentially, the argument would then reassert itself not as a way by which “White America,” as if it were a cohesive and coherent whole—when, since the beginning, it was anything but—shared in some sort of universal responsibility and omnipresent culpability not just of slavery, but also of Jim Crow, of segregation, of redlining, and of all of the other features up-to-and-including rude women in New York and “black-on-black crime.” One might respond broadly and generally that “White America” fought a Civil War to abolish the heinous practice of slavery, that the Civil Rights movement forced Southern Jim Crow segregation to a thunderous end, that redlining was made illegal by decades-old legislature, and that in response to redlining, countermeasures to perceived disparate-impact loaning have been gradually adopted under the veil of “responsible lending,” which seeks to drive banks to “fairly” distribute loans across communities of different economic standing, thereby incurring great financial risk in the pursuit of perceived social justice (I’m not really a numbers guy, so there’s a far better explanation offered in this lovely little link: Now, as a conclusory statement, this is not to whitewash the atrocities that are scattered throughout the tapestry of American—and world—history, nor to simplistically and cavalierly assert something like, “yeah, we did bad, but now we’re all good,” nor to make a claim that I’m knowledgeable enough in history to remark with total authority that we’ve made racial discrimination into a national nonentity, but to comment that progress has always met these boundaries and policies, and that with each generation, we encroach my own definition of the “Dream,” and step farther and farther away from Coates’ own fatalistic nightmare. Is it perfect? Hell, no, but no individual, nor nation, has ever been perfect, and historical progress is the only measurement by which we might regard that we’ve developed; as Coates writes to continue his earlier quote, “ . . . as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children,” (70). And he’s right: there are no apologies sufficient to be given to the victims of mass atrocities like slavery or the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide or any other such calamitous, catastrophic, and contemptible event, nor can the glorification of their suffering posthumously redeem those that brought about such suffering; however, to assert that it’s all about glory or redemption or some cosmic feeling is to comment in err and misunderstanding. After all, history is a flexible tapestry of miracles, tragedies, horrors, comedies, and all other elements of the human condition, for history is a reflection of humanity itself, and so, when we look back at the mistakes of the past, we should not do so in an attempt to atone for our forefathers, nor should we forget the agony experienced by those that were victimized, massacred, and otherwise destroyed; no, we should look back and smile, knowing that over the years, we have learned, and then we should resolve to ensure that such events never again transpire. This is my essence of the American Dream: to improve with each subsequent generation, and what does this mean for our community on campus and more broadly as a nation? Well, it means that we should treat one another with the individual respect, kindness, and nonracial deference that we deserve—as people and as human beings—so that we may look back to the past with pride in our development, work together as equals to improve upon the present, and strive to create a better future for our descendants and inheritors, in which discrimination in the “Dream” is not only minimalized, but obliterated, and left only as a mere outdated relic in our long historical past.

    • To read Between the World and Me, an honest, heart-wrenching account of one black man’s struggle to wrestle with racism emotionally and intellectually in America, and then go about attempting to alleviate white America’s blame for the conspicuous discrimination against people of color that is still prevalent in the Untied States is unfortunate and, intentionally or not, perpetuates ongoing systemic racism. You attempt to subvert the extended horror of slavery noted by Ta-Nehisi Coates by pointing out that America was only technically a slave holding nation for 87 years, rather than the 250 years of slavery perpetrated in a collection of colonies that simply hadn’t yet asserted its independence—as though nearly a century of slavery is forgivable. You go on to point out that Northern states had elected to abolish slavery by 1804, a fact that is somewhat undermined by the sixty years it took the national government to fully realize the law, at a time which saw that same government strictly enforcing laws accommodating the return of escaped slaves, while collaborating with the South to prevent abolitionist articles from reaching southern states via the mail system. The larger point here is that you seem, like so many others, unwilling to really look at the atrocities this country was founded on. Improvement in the condition of African Americans and people of color in general in this country has not been won by smiling back upon our sordid history and congratulating ourselves on whatever advancements have been made, but seriously assessing how we can continue to address the inarguable injustices present in America. The Voting Rights Act and affirmative action were not handed to people of color, but fought for, and the only way your American dream of improvement for each new generation will prevail is if such things continue to be fought for until the United States has fully faced its crimes and given compensation and reparations to those who have suffered most under the American dream.

  6. As Coates describes his dream, he most frequently refers to his “Mecca”, Howard University. However, for most people who declare themselves in pursuit of the American Dream, it is rarely as narrow of a concept as a university. For years, grossly misinformed immigrants have fled their native countries, in sometimes dangerous ways, to reach America. Upon arriving, they discover they are not welcomed, struggle to find a job and support themselves, and may be living a harder more miserable life than before. That is the classic situation of the American dream. However, I don’t believe there is a classic “American dream”. The dream settles itself differently for every individual. For some, the dream was to abolish slavery and live as a free man, while another may have had the dream to own countless amounts of slaves who did every single ounce of his labor and duties and ensured he lived in extreme comfort. Another may have been to live safely, not as a victim of crime, and not count every bread crumb during the depression. Another dream may have been to proudly and patriotically serve in the wars, while another may prayed day and night to not get drafted. Today, one dream may be to have a job, minimum wage or not, while another dream may to work a set amount of years, make a considerable income, live in a large, picture perfect house with two kids and a golden retriever- to each his own. The dream has developed circumstantially depending on the political, social, and economic situation the country as a whole finds itself in which then dwindles into a multi-faceted dream among the people which is constantly evolving.

  7. The “American Dream” as we typically know it revolves around the ideal that any American can achieve success through hard work. In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, he states that, “The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers” (50). Coates’ description of the Dream illustrates a life where the Dreamer can live without fear, especially the fear for the safety for his or her body: “The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake…the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies” (11). The privileged Dreamers rely on the suffering and exploitation on others to reach this idealized life.

    Throughout history, our country became “lost in the Dream” (12). Coates states that, “American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honor, and elan. This lie of the Civil War is the lie of innocence, is the Dream. Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Dream was gilded by novels and adventure stories”(102-103). The Dream finds a way to justify the violence and injustice without actually addressing the real problem. The quote in the given passage calls us to recognize the many injustices present in our nation and even on our campus. Instead of finding the easy answer, we are called to find the root of the problems and ask “why?” Only when we ask why will we get to the cause of the injustice and avoid any generalization. Oftentimes the “immediate answers” are the result of those who are privileged and do not have to fear for their bodies, which allows them to intellectualize the problem rather than actually deal with it and address it.

  8. The Dream that Coates presents is a stripped down and exposed version of the cliche “American Dream” that is usually thought to be equal opportunity and prosperity for all “The People.” As Megan Lonhart posted in a separate thread, Coates presents the Dream from the perspective of both whites (people who believe that they are white) and blacks. For white people, the Dream more closely resembles the theme above, which goes hand in hand with “pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks” (20). These are all generally symbols for happiness or satisfaction. They are the things that most people strive to have. In order for the people who believe they are white to enjoy these things, the black population still suffers in ways that the majority is ignorant to, which includes the denial of “the right to secure and govern [their] own bodies” (8). This is the Dream, an idea that is entirely different between these two groups. As long as it thrives, it will continue to enable one while hindering the other. What allows this idea to survive, however, is the mentality of the majority, those who believe themselves white. This mindset can accurately be condensed into a single statement that Coates discloses on page 60, “we name the hated stranger and are thus confirmed in the tribe.” The majority will find a minority to declare themselves superior to, and this is visible even on the University of Oregon campus, whether it be in the targeting of the LGBTQ group, foreign transfer students, or even the same community that Coates is referring to as he attempts to expose the mindset. I believe that this attitude exists among white people today, who are unaware of it and unaware that they are propelling the Dream. Coates later goes onto state that “to do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law” (98). How did the Dream come to be over the course of American history? The Dream was forged over a great period of time and is a result of white people banding together against the “stranger” without believing that they are committing a bad act. The first steps toward ridding America of this Dream that is detrimental to black citizens are exposing the acts of white people to themselves. The people that believe they are white must realize and accept the acts of discrimination that they perform in their everyday life before change can occur. Coates isn’t asking for change in his book, he’s trying to reach these people and explain to them his perspective. By giving students copies of Coates’ “letter,” I believe UO is taking the right approach to eventual change.

  9. I am going to keep this brief. The youth of today are growing up in a world where every scrap of published information is available within seconds. With this stream of information that has never been available before in human history, I believe that trivial matters of race and the like are now less important than immersing one’s self in this stream. Of course, this only applies to people who have access to the internet, which I figure the author did not in his upbringing. But soon enough internet will be an essential utility just like water, and all those with a device will be able to learn and communicate to their hearts content. Likes will be more highly valued than street cred. The Mecca will be in our pockets.

  10. Coates describes the illusion of those who see themselves as white as “the Dream”. In doing so he makes a conscious allusion to the American Dream as we typically know it. The American Dream is an ideal of freedom in which anyone has the opportunity to become prosperous should they only work hard enough. This would fit into Coates’ Dream, as Dreamers must believe they are higher in life because of their own labor while others are lower because of their own laziness, so as to feel rightful in their position. This is, of course, false, when simply being born into one neighborhood forces a child to go through daily threats of violence, prevents them from going to a well-funded school, and heaps on them lifetime disadvantages. In other words, equal opportunity is a myth. A black individual will go through life with distinct disadvantages and a larger likelihood of not surviving long at all. In this way, the American Dream is parallel with Coates’ Dream. In fact, Coates’ analysis of the Dream very much reflects John Steinbeck’s Paradox and Dream, a cynical evaluation of the American Dream and its hypocrisies.

    However, Coates brings up an interesting point, that the morals of America are very much alive, that “America’s problem is not its betrayal of ‘government of the people,’ but the means by which ‘the people’ acquired their names” (Coates 6). Which is to say, the American Dream of prosperity for all people is still alive should the definition of “people” mean “descendants of white-Europeans.” This means Coates’ Dream could not necessarily be interchangeable with the American Dream, as the American Dream is no illusion, but functions only for European-Americans (which, in my opinion, it no longer does, if it ever did). Thus, while Coates discusses the deception of the Dream in a way that could very much apply to our typical American Dream, he makes a point of distinguishing the two.

  11. The Dream is essentially glorified separation. The United States of America, derived from separation itself, has always focused on the differences between itself and others, favoring the view of itself as a societal anomaly that was “meant” to succeed. The idea that it’s success was a God given right allowed initial separations- specifically the separation between “white” Americans and “black” people, between owners and slaves- to be justified and seen as necessary. These separations ultimately set the course for a nation where African-Americans were identified as “black”, which as Coates said was “just someone’s name for being at the bottom, a human turned to object, object turned to pariah.” (Coates, 55). Today, despite drastic changes in this view of African- Americans, the name “black” is still the most common way of describing the race of African- Americans or really anyone else who looks like they might be. This name, resonating with the cruel history of the United States, is a constant reminder of the dire need for Americans to be educated on the realities of their country and what it has done. As Coates said on page 50, “the Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers.” If the questions about the word “black” are limited, if answers don’t tell the truth of history, if society pretends it just means “African-American”, the Dream will continue to be a blissful separation that allows people to be ignorant to reality.

  12. A common thread running through global cultures is the concept of yearning, of working, of achieving. This is encapsulated in the Dream. While the well-known American dream seems mostly wealth-centric, specific to gold and glam straight out of The Great Gatsby, the dream mentioned in Between the World and Me includes a sliver of that lust, but focuses more on power and privilege. Coates emphasizes the dangerously unfulfilling nature of the chase for this Dream. Even those viewed as highest of the high are crumbling from within, desperately grasping for more and more until their hands close around only air. There is no end to this quest for ultimate satisfaction, not meaning in a life lived only for power. Because of this, then, those with the thirst for control will do anything to stay on top, even if it means sacrificing the wellbeing of entire races. The Dream is an insulting double standard, forcing the oppressed party to work twice as hard to scrape by. This, of course, is nothing new. Historically, in any conflict, the winners write the history books, and thus get away with the atrocious acts committed to uphold ‘comfortable’ power structures.

    Though there is no easy way to un-do what has been done in the pursuit of power, we can start by listening – and looking into histories that may have been swept under the rug. The violence that was done deserves to be spoken. In campus settings, this can take the form of campaigns to educate students on lesser-known injustices, past and present. Workshops are also an excellent way to get more of an interactive experience, or perhaps even hear the perspective of students themselves. As has recently taken place, halls named after racist/oppressive figures should be considered and renamed if deemed the right choice. Incremental steps like these build a strong local front which will lay a solid foundation for a national effort. Overall, people need to be reminded that the easy answer is rarely the right one, and that there is usually truth somewhere between the two extremes.

  13. “The dream” refers to the American dream and what had to be taken to achieve it. Coates explains some of the injustices that occurred in order to live the American dream. He also explains how “the dream” is reaching your goals simply by stepping on other people and benefiting from their wealth. This quote starkly contrasts with encouragements I’ve heard around campus and from UO. The goal should be to create endless possibilities and continually ask questions, not just produce the quickest and easiest answer.

  14. Throughout the book, Coates refers to the “dream” as his own personal belief. He wants the “dream” to be his own, but all around him it seems to be an excuse for slavery and disembodiment of black bodies.
    In the book, the dream is different for the races. For the whites, it tends to be more like getting a job and living peacefully, without consequence of certain action. It is reflected in the novel when Coates discusses the police and how they are unchanged when something they do, whether it is kill or injure another, does not have consequence. In contrast to the black bodies dream, where they live in oppression and must fight to live everyday, and their dream at the end is to come out alive.
    Compared to the American Dream, the “dream” in the novel is not alike. The American Dream is something that immigrants looked toward to starting a new life. Though many of the black bodies refereed to in the novel may relate to that ideal, due to their feeling of being excluded, the dream can be whatever the individual wants to see it as, and it will vary for all skin colors and ethnicities. That is what the dream means to Coates.

    More than anything this quote helps us on the campus to be more aware of generalization and helps the community understand that no one is who they look to be, so they should not be treated as just an image. Everyone needs to be given a chance to be treated with respect, just as you would treat your own family, and how you would respect your own dream.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *