Quote 5

Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more.

This quotation, from Part III, page 150, comes at the tail end of the book after Coates has finished visiting Dr. Jones. He thinks about how both Dr. Jones and Malcolm X believed that the white plunderers who have destroyed black people are doomed and will reap what they sow. Coates disagrees. He thinks black people will also reap what white people have sown. To plunder—meaning to take and destroy something that is not yours—is a choice. But as Coates has tried to show Samori, white plundering of black people had become so deeply ingrained in American life that Americans are now still having to actively unlearn even the smallest prejudicial thoughts. The resulting problems, like racial targeting, police beatings of black people, and mass incarceration, will take years to abate, if they will heal at all. If a tradition turns into a habit, the more difficult it is to make conscious decisions against it. And if that habit turns into an addiction, the deep effort required to overcome it will take generations.

When Coates says, “plunder much more,” he is talking about the environment. He believes that white America cannot help it but continue to loot and plunder; they have become so used to plundering that they cannot stop. This isn’t because white people have no moral compass at all. It is because they have become addicted to doing whatever is easiest and most useful in the short term. Following this quotation, Coates goes on to say that he’s not making a prophecy, and he doesn’t think white people are being paid back by the environment for what they have done to black people. White people will plunder for no reason more than “the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.” Coates claims that if white America can plunder black bodies so systematically and then deny it, they are bound to destroy the world, too, and everyone will lose.