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Coates describes falling in love. He first falls in love with a woman from Bangladesh, and she opens his eyes to the vastness of the world. He calls her Black out of ignorance because it is all he knows to call her. She opens a wormhole for him because she has traveled to and carried the lineage of distant lands. Coates then falls in love with a bisexual woman with long dreadlocks, who lives with a bisexual Howard professor and his wife. This woman teaches him a form of love that is softer than his parents’ love. He reminisces about the first time he has a migraine, and she brings him to her house to take care of him.
Coates admires the way Black people dance. He wants to dance, but a fear of his body has always held him back. Watching the people dance uninhibited in clubs, he appreciates that music and rhythm allow them to exhibit complete control of their bodies. He compares their dancing to Malcolm X’s voice. This spurs his desire to write in the way that they dance, with control, power, joy, and warmth. He publishes articles and reviews in alternative newspapers, and his teachers edit them. The teachers point him toward journalism, which he loves because it enables him to ask questions. Coates speaks briefly about a young man named Prince Jones, whom he loves because Prince is generous, kind, and warm. He foreshadows that Prince will die at a young age.
Coates meets Samori’s mother, Kenyatta, at Howard. She is from Chicago and has no father. Like Coates, she seems aware of cosmic injustices. Furthermore, he recognizes that she understands the type of injustice against female bodies that he can never experience. She becomes pregnant with Samori; the pregnancy is unplanned and they are unmarried. Samori holds them together because they are both aware of the protection they owe their child. When they leave Howard, Coates does not complete his degree and works as a freelance writer. Samori’s grandmother comes to visit them during the pregnancy and tells Coates to take care of his wife, her only daughter. Coates says his world changes at that moment because he realizes he is responsible for his family. Samori is named after Samori Toure, who resisted French colonizers and died in captivity. Coates intentionally names Samori after someone who struggled for freedom because Coates believes that there is a lot of wisdom in the struggle. One of the most important lessons he learns from the streets is that one’s tribe struggles and fights together, whatever the outcome.
Coates encourages Samori to remember slaves as individuals, not simply as a mass of people. Each slave has their own personality, dreams, and family. Coates tells Samori to never forget that Black people in America were enslaved longer than they have been free, and generations of individuals knew nothing but chains. Lastly, he emphasizes that no matter how improved the current situation of the Black race is, it is not redemption for the enslavement of generations that came before. It isn’t Samori’s responsibility to change the world. While it is a beautiful world, he will still have to struggle with how to exist in his Black body.
The different loves that Coates experiences at Howard help him reevaluate himself and his own ignorance. He describes kissing the woman from Bangladesh as opening up a mental wormhole. He can only name her “Black” because he doesn’t know what else to call her, but she is a different Black than him and has been to distant lands. She functions essentially as an expansion of his worldview. Being with this woman allows Coates to have an even more intimate experience with the knowledge of other lands. The fact that she carries a different lineage and heritage make him feel ignorant in her presence, but Coates, having already identified himself as a searcher, is drawn to identifying his ignorance because it presents an opportunity to learn.
The bisexual girl with the dreadlocks changes Coates’ view of love, though she doesn’t appear to return his romantic feelings. He has been raised in an environment that is prejudiced against queer people and has spent his life calling them names and hating them. This woman, who uses her sexuality to take and express control of her own body, convinces him to change his views. The question of Coates’ life is how to feel free in his body. This woman seems to feel secure and at peace in hers, but she is controlling her body in a way that he has been taught is perverse. He feels torn between judging her and the bisexual couple she lives with, and being jealous of their closeness and bodily security. When he gets a migraine, the woman exhibits more tender love than he has ever felt. The more time he spends with them, the less his prejudices make sense to him. He realizes that in the same way he thinks of white people plundering his body, perhaps he has also stolen from gay and bisexual people of his own race.
We can see Coates’ thoughts shift when he meets Kenyatta and she becomes pregnant with Samori. Until that point, he has been primarily concerned with his own personal explorations and questions, but when Samori’s mother becomes pregnant, he feels very young. They aren’t married at the time, but Samori keeps them together. They both know that they owe as much protection to their child as they can give him. The reader can infer that this realization is connected to the lack of security and protection that Coates and Kenyatta felt their whole lives. Coates now understands that the security of his family partially falls under his control, and that if he fails at his ventures in life, his family will go down with him. Samori’s maternal grandmother puts this in stark light when she comes to visit and directly tells Coates to take care of her only daughter. From here on out, Coates’ intellectual exploration is not just about his own questions but about passing information to his son. Specifically, it is about getting Samori to understand that the value of life is in the struggle itself.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Between the World and Me!