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The Problem of Race

A View into African American Lives Through Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me

Racism and prejudice have been present in almost every civilization and society throughout history. Even though the world has progressed greatly in the last couple of decades, both socially and technologically, racism, hatred, and prejudice still exist today. It lives deeply embedded in old-fashioned, narrow-minded traditions and values. People like being right. When confronted by a different person's views, they get angered. That is what the United States is—a country is built on people having their own views and points. Although this is good, it can become fatal. America as a nation has a deep central problem with the way it views people that are not ‘white,’ it stereotypes and places people in boxes that make it difficult for them to get out of, unless we go out of our way to neglect stereotypical views we see or hear from people and the media, the racial issues and problems deeply embedded in American history will never be fixed. The only way to teach about the issues of racism in America is through education, one way being Ta Nehisi Coates “Letter to My Son” because it helps the reader understand the fear of being a black American and relate to the issues that will not only affect them but the people around them.

“A Letter to My Son” shows or rather tells the American reader about American History in the most intimate concerns an African American father has for his son. Ta Nehisi Coates, the author of a “Letter to my son” sheds a different light on America’s painful racial history and the current civil rights crisis. America has built a society on ‘race,’ to be white is to be above everyone else, they are essentially ‘superior,’ to be black would mean to be an uneducated individual who often relies on social welfare, to be Asian will automatically classify a person as being smart or a prodigy, to be Spanish/Latino would classify a person as illegal or a rapist in a gang. We built a nation based off of the colour of someone’s skin or the ‘race’ that person is perceived as these ideals we live with today do more damage than they do good. Black people have been unjustly criticized and exploited from the first set of black people transferred on a ship to a country they knew nothing about, they have faced injustice from the bodies piling on the streets because a cop couldn’t handle their badge and keep the peace. 

They have turned the other cheek through all the harsh names and words thrown at them like a common beggar on the street, their bodies are being oppressed through slavery and segregation, and today, threatened, locked up, accused, and murdered out of all proportion to our number in the population. So if a white person would stop to ask a black person what the issue about race and inequality is, they will stop and in return ask- how would you possibly have a clue about what our fellow blacks face? You can not possibly inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it. You can not cypher what our history has held and how we free ourselves from this burden. This is what Coates tries to explain in his book, he highlights his past experiences and things he’s seen all around him, it is not just a letter to his son but a letter to not only every other black person in America but to white people and future generations as well. 

“That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left this body in the would never be punished. It was not my exception that anyone would ever be punished... you were young and still believed... when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room... I came in five minutes after... I didn't comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay... What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” Coates was trying to show how generation after generation has had to deal with injustices, he shows in an intimate sense describing how he had to let his son pain in silence, in homes, with people with the same coloured skin. Coates was trying to explain how a person can not comfort someone on a matter they believe cannot be fixed, that it would never be okay for a black person to live as equally as a white person. 

Black people have to be able to live within themselves, to accept that they are black, they can not be one race and act another, the next person will see them as that one race they are classified as, for them to classify themselves as another would be wrong, so for them to exist, they must live as their classified race, wake up, do what they are expected to do and learn to not go against it, wake up and make sure they don't end up dead. Coates is trying to shows that people need to see beyond stereotypes, if they see past the stereotypes and learn to accept people as individuals and not what everyone wants them to be when he or she can learn to live together, to not have to wake up fearing for his or her lives daily. It is effective because it’s relatable to all races, not just black people. Coates writes to his son so that we can all identify with that, it isn’t a basic letter to a son, but rather, a letter to the nation, it represents a black man living in a ‘white’ nation and how he must deal with living as such. It is effective because it’s relatable to all races. Coates writes to his son so that we all can identify with that.

Coates tries to show how black people are being mistreated, and although it wasn't as bad as 1865, blacks still live among it, they go through it every day, something has changed but not much, and the U.S tries to mask it through different wording. 

“There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even at this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, and even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You just always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” 

Coates tries to show that racial injustice stems from a long time ago. The people causing all the pain to black bodies feel as though they are not wrong because it is written and seen in history as the way to treat blacks, it has stemmed through slavery and now, progressed through oppression. In this quote, Coates is trying to show how the U.S has always had a history of abusing black bodies, from slavery to segregation to police brutality today, and excuses will always be made to why that is so. We use different words to work around what it is and what that is is uncharacterized stereotyping, they way we word them shifts or hides the fact that racism could come in the face of your next door neighbour, a person on the block, it could come from anyone and it could come in any way shape or form, that being, words, bodily harm, or mental harm. This is a great way to teach the nation about the race problem because it not only shows people the problem with race in our country but shows where the problem started and how it has developed through time. It’s effective because it gives background information on how this isn’t an isolated situation but a recurring one.

The problem about race is not about the people but how we respond to the people. It is not the woman behind the counter calling the police about two black men standing in a Starbucks but rather what the police do once they get there. Fixing racial issues in America starts with educating the youth, do not pass pessimistic ideas and views about once race unto children, we shouldn’t be looking at the stereotypes we put or place unto people. How can we make our own view on one person or race unless we interact with individuals of a different race? We can not just accept the media or others views on one person, from us to learn about past problems, we must go out and look, explore for ourselves, it doesn’t take one person for you to put a race in a box, you must talk to different people from different areas, an African American is different from an African.

America as a nation has a history built from the mistreatment of black people, it has come a long way in the 21st century, although the nation has neglected slavery, it still places black people in a box were they as seen in a bad light, to fix this problem we should let the everyday stereotypical views heard from news media sources and other people.

People might see America as not having a racial problem because they have not seen or experienced racial injustices. Letter To My Son is different because it comes from a black perspective writing on an issue that troubles the black community, Coates writes this using his own experiences and pieces of history to convey his message on the oppression of black people. Coates writes about the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of black people he explains it is as the “white” goals in his childhood staring at a television set seeing happy white children. It is his letter he conveys his hopes of one day people trying to leave their old ways to try and understand the problems a racial minority faces and that people can be deprived of even creating what most people would consider a desirable hope/dream.

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The Problem of Race
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