The Struggle Against the Dream
“The Dream” is a term Ta-Nehisi Coates coins to describe the myth that there is a difference between black people and white people, and specifically that “whiteness” is better than “blackness.” He writes that people are dreaming if they believe there to be such a thing as whiteness or blackness. Americans, and even some Black Americans, have turned a blind eye to the plundering of black bodies that has taken placed throughout American history and still takes place today, and willfully embraced “The Dream” for the sake of their own wealth and security. Although Coates never instructs readers directly on how to solve the issue of the dream, it is clear that he wants his readers to struggle. The purpose of his work is to convince readers not to accept the status quo, but to struggle against the people who hold the power.
Tim Wise asserts in his talk, Pathology of Privilege, “white Americans are twice as likely to believe that Elvis might still be alive then we are to believe what people of color tell us they experience on a fairly regular basis.” Wise spoke these words in reference to two different Gallup surveys from approximately 2005. This type of willful blindness is what sustains Ta-Nehisi Coates’ idea of “The Dream.” Coates describes two significant instances of being affected by people who are living the dream. The first was when a woman pushed his son. His son was minding his own business, but a white woman felt that she could push his son to get him out of the way. She treated him like an object, which she could move at her will. Furthering the atrocity of the situation, when Coates stood up for his son, several white men came to the defense of the woman, even telling Coates that they could have him arrested (Coates 95). This situation is a chilling model of the scene presented in the poem, “Between the World and Me.” When the woman looked at Coates’ son, all she sees is another black body. She sees an “it.” Just like in the poem, the black body seen by the narrator is seen as an “it,” instead of a person. Then, when Coates finds himself surrounded by white men who are willing to have him arrested, readers are reminded of the scene in the poem when white men and women are having a party around the tarred, feathered, and burning body of a black man (Wright). In this instance Coates fears for his son. He reflects that his son is vulnerable, simply because he is black. Coates realizes that, if asked, the woman would deny that she is racist, all the while exhibiting blatantly racist attitudes. This woman is an excellent example of White Privilege, as defined in Keywords for American Cultural Studies. She does not have to think about if her attitudes are racist, because she is white. Her body is not plundered because of her race. She can afford to be dreaming.
The second time Coates is shocked by people living the dream comes when he learns of the death of Prince Jones. Specifically, the shock comes when he...