Between the World and Me

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part III, pages 136-152

Summary Part III, pages 136-152

Dr. Jones predicts national doom, and Malcolm X said that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. But Coates believes this is too simplistic and that black people will reap it with them. Just like the Dreamers have plundered black bodies, they also plunder the physical earth and likely will not stop until the earth stops them. Lastly, Coates urges Samori to struggle with all his questions, but he doesn’t want him to struggle for the Dreamers, only to hope or pray. They will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that their plunder of black bodies and the earth is the deathbed for everyone. The letter ends with Coates driving through the ghettos, feeling his old familiar fear.

Analysis: Part III, pages 136-152

Coates’ visit to Prince’s mother, Dr. Jones, is both revealing and tragic. He wants to know how she has kept on living in the wake of losing her only son to senseless violence. This interest in her individuality mirrors the way he thinks of the slaves, as complete people to be valued separately from one another. The world seems to have forgotten Prince Jones and his family, but Prince is always on Coates’ mind, so he also thinks a lot about Prince’s family. Coates’ background in journalism certainly helps to give him the courage to call, visit, and interview Dr. Jones, despite having never met her. Coates and Dr. Jones relate to one another right away through their shared observance of the gap between black and white people. Coates first noticed it on TV, and she first noticed it at four years old. This gap is what propelled Dr. Jones to commit to becoming a doctor. Dr. Jones seems to have a special trait of being so excellent that people cannot help but like, or at least support, her. In four years of high school, she went from a girl who was bullied for her color to being elected class president, the highest esteem her classmates could give her.

Dr. Jones represents the epitome of being “twice as good,” as black parents tell their children they must be to succeed. By doing everything to the absolute best of her ability, she achieved a medical scholarship in the same state where her ancestors were enslaved. But when Coates asks Dr. Jones if it bothers her that she is the only black doctor she knows, she seems insulted. This demonstrates how Dr. Jones has learned to rise above the “twice as good” mantra. By refusing to accept the “strangeness” of her position, she attempts to normalize the idea of a black, female radiologist.

In his way, Prince also refused to give power to the racial divide. Dr. Jones wanted him to go to an Ivy League school because he was a top student, but he only applied to Howard, a historically black university. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, America has tried to “right the wrong” of slavery by accepting more black students into colleges and universities. This creates a situation that turns black students into symbols of pride for the schools. In a backwards way, this monetizes the black body yet again because schools use diversity as a marketing strategy. Prince just wanted to feel normal, and that is why he went to Howard, where he was one black body amongst many. Coates’ visit to Dr. Jones is revealing because it explains how hard Dr. Jones had worked to get out of poverty and then give her family such a good life, but the tragic reality is that all this hard work and privilege wasn’t enough to keep Prince from getting killed, for no reason at all. Dr. Jones still lives in fear for her new grandson, whom nobody will really be able to protect.

The last pages of the letter portray the complex mix of emotions Coates experiences as a black man in America. Coates revisits his thoughts about the non-violent protestors, whom he used to shame for giving up their bodies so easily. When he says he wonders if the photos are just “true,” he doesn’t only mean that they just show what happened. He wonders instead whether the protestors knew something he doesn’t. What if sanctity and security of the body never existed in the first place? The photos may have simply portrayed the world as the terrible place that it is. Coates recalls a happy moment of reveling in the black power of the Howard reunion. His eloquent description of what black power really means—an experience of great struggle that leads to great understanding—reiterates to Samori that life is truly found in the struggle. The ending warning that white plunder will kill the earth and its people seems to speak directly to the reader, who Coates is aware may well be white. The letter ends as it started, with fear, representing the ever-present cycle of violence that has been pushed on black people in America for centuries.