The Life of an African-American Youth in Baltimore in Between the World and Me, a Book by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ In Between the World and Me (2015) is an autobiographical account of his life as an African-American youth growing up in Baltimore. In the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and other black youths, Coates wrote this book in the kind of a letter to his teenage kid Samori, providing him advice and insight into how he must be “two times as good” in a country where he has little control over what happens to his body (101 ). Coates also mentions the recommendations his own moms and dads gave him. One especially impactful knowing minute for Coates was his mom making him question his own actions (Coates, 30). In this paper, I will be showing how this lesson Coates gained from his mom might be helpful to every scholar in enhancing their understanding of humanity and history, as it provided for Coates. The US school system teaches a lot of things that students later discover were sugarcoated or total lies and frequently students never have the chance to investigate those subjects and occasions. One of the subjects that is frequently taught improperly or extremely generally to the point of disrespect is slavery, specifically servant resistance. I will use the lesson from Coates’ mom to my own education of servant resistance in order to provide proof for how this process would affect the learning of students and how the act of questioning what they learn can be beneficial.

In the first chapter of Between the World and Me, Coates describes the trouble he entered into during his elementary school years, for offenses such as talking while his instructor taught or playing with his buddies during a lesson. As a consequence of these actions his mom made him blog about them and respond to concerns such as, “Why did I not think that my teacher was entitled to appreciate?” (Coates, 29). The act of writing and checking out the reasons behind his actions did not change Coates’ behavior, however he calls them “the earliest acts of … drawing myself into consciousness.” (Coates, 30) His mom taught him a lesson that stayed with him throughout his academic career and caused his profession in journalism, the lesson that,” [He] was not an innocent. [His] impulses were not filled with never-failing virtue. And sensation that [he] was as human as anybody, this need to be true for other human beings. If [he] was not innocent, then they were not innocent.” (Coates, 30). Recognizing that nobody was filled with “unfailing virtue,” Coates began to question the of the world around him, starting with what he was taught in school. He came to the conclusion that the “mix of inspiration,” that he and everybody else need to have felt, must affect the method their stories are told. Claims of who was a winner, and who a loser must be questioned; claims of who was in power, and who was subordinate need to be interrogated. Coates mentions that “the concerns started burning in [him],” resulting in a life-long search for answers (Coates, 30).

As an African-American woman, I believe that it was inevitable that I reached the exact same conclusion as Coates at some point in my academic profession. As a sophomore in college, I am still learning that things I learned in school were not completely real and that history is more than a dichotomy of heroes and bad guys. Throughout my very first year of college I took a course in African-American history in which I check out Raymond and Alice Bauer’s, “Daily Servant Resistance,”– a short article in The Journal of Negro History– which touched on the topic of direct and indirect kinds of slave resistance. This was an extremely eye-opening read for me, as my previous knowledge of servant resistance during the 18th and 19th century was restricted to a couple of radicals and generalizations of servants running away in the middle of the night with the help of white abolitionists. College provided me with details I hadn’t even understood to seek since my main education pacified me with a number of stick out historic figures and ignored those who apparently stayed powerless. Coates is right is stating that, “The Dream”– an unconsciousness of the defects of mankind that lots of Americans are bound to–“grows on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions.” (Coates, 50).

In a South Carolina, primary school lesson plan the practice of slavery is specified as a “peculiar institution” that grew in action to ‘the industrialization of the North and the expansion of demand for cotton in the south” causing the economy growing “increasingly reliant on inexpensive labor.” (TAHSC). The source instantly tries to introduce a silver-lining by specifying that in spite of centuries of enslavement “cultures grow and prosper in all conditions.” This source likewise claims that, “Though the stories about terrible overseers were definitely true in some cases … when slaves grumbled that they were being unjustly dealt with, slaveholders would often be really protective … and release the overseer.” (TAHSC). By sugarcoating all of the cruelest aspects of slavery, educators have the ability to limit possible concerns and objections by teaching students that slavery was not all bad. This makes it much easier for supporters of The Dream to look away and “neglect the great evil done in all our names.” (Coates, 9).

When the subject of servant resistance turns up, teachers offer trainees a few exemplary figures, like Harriet Tubman who “helped over 300 servants reach liberty using the underground railway,” without dignifying those who had to be left behind or died on the journey, or Nat Turner who “organized 70 slaves who went from plantation to plantation and murdered about 75 guys, females, and kids.” without a single mention of the two-hundred black people eliminated by white militias and mobs in retaliation (TAHSC). While these figures are substantial to slave resistance in the South, it undermines the sacrifices made by slaves who utilized less severe procedures of counterattack, but still made a big impact on performance. When focus is placed on the outliers, it is easy to forget that the remainder of the slaves weren’t content. An essay on the issue of race in America states that slaves were, “Easily obedient … more than most other social groups they [were] patiently tolerant under abuse and injustice and little likely to struggle against troubles.” (Reuters, 7). Accounts such as this were used to justify the enslavement of blacks by persuading individuals that the “Negro personality” was amenable to the condition of slavery. (Reuters, 7). If educators continue to make light of the response a big majority of blacks had to slavery, how will trainees comprehend the reality of how detrimental the practice was and do something about it to reverse and prevent the past choices of our nation?

The investigation done by the Bauers shows that slaves developed efficient types of indirect retaliation to their enslavement. Slaves were keenly knowledgeable about their economic value and one form of this indirect resistance is servants knowingly saving their energy, and working as sluggish as they could without being punished for it. Reluctant labor was so prevalent among plantations that it was classified as an illness called “Dysesthesia Aethiopica” which only impacted blacks. Indications of this disorder included, “negligent motions … insensibility of the nerves … cutting up corn, cotton, and tobacco when hoeing it … eliminating stock … destroying tools,” and other kinds of apparently deliberate mischief that they could not control. (Bauer and Bauer, 394). Evidence of the slowing down of labor to minimize productivity is evidenced in the amount of output acquired depending upon whether or not slaves were forced to work throughout the day, or offered a specific job to finish and given spare time for the rest of the day. When given free time after conclusion of a specific jobs, it was observed that some workers would leave the field after three or four hours. It might take up to four times as wish for slaves to produce the exact same output if they had no promise of downtime. (Bauer, 400). Another well-documented phenomenon throughout slave states was malingering. Servants would feign disease to prevent work and analysis of records of illness of several plantations revealed that the highest rate of illness occurred throughout the times of the year when the most work required to be done. Some would even fake a special needs to prevent being purchased by unwanted masters or to lower their worth and get revenge on their former master. (Bauer, 406).

Other demonstrations included resisting punishment. An example provided by Bauer is of a servant too brawny for the overseer to whip, so the overseer orders 3 equally as large servants to punish him. Nevertheless, the overseer is likewise not able to prevail over the additional three, and needs to quit on trying to penalize anyone. (Bauer, 396). Resistance to penalty also happened when the driver– a slave whose task was to make other slaves work– doled out penalty. In a various quantity of cases, it was kept in mind that the motorist “took pains not to treat his fellows with ay more than the absolute minimum of violence.” (Bauer, 396) Years of experience enabled motorists to gain a high level of accuracy and control with whips and some could “throw the lash within a hair’s breadth of the back … without touching.” The servant getting the punishment would then squirm and yell, though their skin had actually not even been grazed. (Bauer, 398). Like Coates is training his son to do, slaves with next to no control over their bodies, found methods to accomplish some firm and free choice.

In the case of children, servant moms would pretend to be ignorant of how to raise a child, regardless of often being responsible for white children. This would result in the mistresses of plantation owners needing to take care of sick slave children and making certain they were offered with the appropriate nutrients (Bauer, 415). Plantation owners off of the coast of South Carolina went as far as paying servant moms if their children endured the first year of life (Bauer, 416). Extra patterns of resistance studied by the Bauers consisted of feigning pregnancy, self-injury, suicide, and killing infants born into slavery (Bauer, 418). This proof goes against the idea of slaves as material and pleasant workers, however instead shows that they were regularly rebellious and smart. Yet students are not exposed to these forms of resistance and are raised in false memory.

Something Coates checks out in Between the World and Me is why young scholars are taught in this way. As early as seventh grade he, “sensed that the schools were concealing something … so that we would not see, so that we did not ask.” (Coates, 26). Just as Coates was able to compare the heroes he checked out in his daddy’s Black Panthers books to the heroes offered to him by the schools– as he discovered the latter “absurd and contrary to whatever [he] understood–” scholars today ought to be directed to resources that will permit them to compare and contrast heroes provided by the curriculum to those who are lesser recognized since they don’t exhibit American values. It was policy makers and school board members who decided that Frederick Douglass– who got away from slavery when he was 21 and was a skilled orator– was a better good example than Margaret Garner– a female slave that eliminated three of her kids, and tried to drown the fourth when they were caught on the run, in a last stitch effort to spare them from forced labor– who served as an example of the mental injury brought on by slavery. Teacher of African-American history, Susan O’Donovan, explains the history of slavery as “a story of extensive oppression that is all at once a story of imagination, strength, and above all, survival.” (O’Donovan, 7). She questions why teachers don’t teach about the stories of slaves as relatable beings, who “chuckled, wept, and wondered” much like trainees do. (O’Donovan, 8). I believe that Coates would agree with O’Donovan who believes that by approaching slavery as an issue dealt with by common people– not simply “an indefinable mass of flesh” as he composes– trainees would be taught how to “believe and check out seriously, how to tease out significance, identify assumptions, weigh proof, and come to their own conclusions.” (O’Donovan, 10).

As a society, we position more worth on the “opportunity of immediate responses” and the “look for certainty” than we put on “questioning as exploration.” (Coates, 34). What are the advantages, if any, of this manner of educating the children? Nancy Ogden, a high school history teacher, mentions that slavery is such a tough topic to teach since of the problems of racism and oppression it raises, which many teachers wish to shelter students from. (Ogden, Perkins, and Donahue, 429) When taking a look at factors cited for treating kids as if they are not efficient in taking in the truth of our country’s history, one must then ask who is being secured? Is it the African-American kids who are being denied understanding of vital parts of their own ethnic history? Is it the white kids who are offered the choice to remain oblivious to the degree of how much American and European markets gained from human bondage, and the impact whites’ mindset towards blacks during the antebellum period has on racial and socioeconomic variations of the 21st century? Even as an African-American student who was raised in the deep south, I never felt as though I could relate to blacks oppressed what looked like centuries earlier, when in actuality, “we were oppressed in this country longer than we have been free.” (Coates, 70). When teaching her students, Ogden positions worth on making connections from the past to the present specific, in order to “assist students make compassionate historical judgements.” She specifies that “frequently, trainees picture individuals in history living lives that have little to do with their own.” (Ogden, 480). The absence of connection is what leads to trainees not looking past the generalizations we are taught about events such as slavery from a young age. I believe that Coates would find Ogden’s lessons important to black students, such as his child who he motivated to not forget how black bodies were “transfigured … into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.” (Coates, 71).

The function of the mother from Coates’ mother was not to provide him with a correct or final answer, however to teach him to examine his actions and inspirations, in addition to the motivations of everybody else. Though he didn’t discover any satisfactory responses, “the concern [was] improved” whenever he asked it (Coates, 34). The function of schooling should not be for trainees to come to some profound conclusion, or to have a clear idea of who the historic good guys and bad men are, however to be able to question and criticize the actions of those who altered history. Trainees are analytical, and there is details out there, all that is needed is the push into the world of interest, which Coates’ mother provided for him and he is providing for his boy.