What is the difference between a white body and a Black one, between the world and me, Ta-Nehisi Coates asks. Fear, violence, abuse, he answers. Words that recall not an isolated, unfortunate situation, but an entire structural system of supremacy. America’s democracy is rooted in black people’s destruction, according to Ta-Nehisi.
The validity of this thesis is proven and measured on a battleground of flesh and blood: the flesh and blood of Coates, his parents, his siblings. The whole essay hinges on the concept of the body and its destruction, and the words of Coates are imbued with radical materialism. It is from the body and on the body that the abuse of white people over Black people takes place, and it manifests in beatings, shootings, sexual abuse. Tying the critical and sociological narrative to his own personal experience, Coates embodies the words of James Baldwin, who claimed that History was trapped inside people and vice versa.
Coates retraces the stages of his awareness – from the Baltimore of The Wire (where he grew up) to the Mecca of Howard University, to the New York City of mix and difference – linking it to what he calls “the fight”, a fight that never stops. On the one hand, there is the Black body, which is afraid; and this fear reverberates in two ways, the rebellion of the street and the obedience of the school. On the other hand, there is what Coates calls the “dream”, the “dreamers”: white Americans who built the idea of a tribe and a race, and on that idea, they expand their galaxy of power and security. The path that Coates has chosen is not the street, nor the school; a third way has opened up, the way of words: never taken for granted, never innocent, never accommodating. Words of the fight.