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The Yard at Howard University—the popular gathering place at the center of campus—represents the diversity of the Black race. While looking out over the Yard, Coates calls Howard “the Black diaspora.” He sees Black people from all over the world. They study different things, look exotic, and all have different styles. He never met such a diverse pool of people in the relatively homogenous ghettos of Baltimore. When Coates references the Yard, he is referencing not just memories of that specific meeting place, but also the diverse group of people gathered there and the beautiful complexity of his race.
To Coates, Paris represents security over one’s body. When he travels to Paris for the first time, he realizes that he is free from the constant fear of being assaulted that he experiences daily in America. Unlike white Americans, the French have never systematically enslaved Africans. He isn’t looked upon with any prejudice or suspicion resulting from his race, which is something he has never experienced. Coates takes Samori to Paris because he wants him to experience life without that fear and to enjoy security in a new way.
In Between the World and Me, the Dream symbolizes Coates’s own perception and subversion of the American Dream. The traditional American Dream assumes that anyone can achieve material and social success due to the equality built into the country’s foundation. To Coates, the Dream represents the mythologies created by white people to appease or subdue Black people’s resistance through false comfort and hope.
Throughout the text, Coates warns his son of many false promises or ideals he may encounter as he progresses through the world as a Black man. Some of these false promises include the education system’s promise to help Black children, the government’s promise to protect all its citizens equally, and the country’s promise that anyone can “make it” and achieve their goals. This final promise, which makes up the foundation of the American Dream, ignores the fact that this idea is only obtainable for white people because its structure was built on the backs of Black people, excluding them from the promise.
The word dream is not much different than words like myth or lie. Oftentimes dreams are unobtainable things. To Coates, when the Dreamers perpetuate these placations, whether knowingly or not, it distracts Black people from the things being withheld from them like security, safety, and success. The Dream reminds Coates of all the falsehoods he’s witnessed being fed through the mouth of whiteness.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Between the World and Me!