Depiction of Racial Prejudices in American Society in Between the World and Me

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Social justice and equality matters have been addressed by many writers and poets for a long time. Racial inequality, for instance, made a powerful impact on American history and on the lives of many people. From the beginning, American society has been founded on cruel domination and oppression of African Americans because their bodies looked different. As a result, writers such as Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coats, and poets like Kevin Young have been utilizing body destruction in their works as it is only natural for any human being to be concerned about their body health and preservation, because without body – there is no life and no future. Using a powerful destruction of the body technique in literature enables writers to fuel African American people into fight for their equal position/status and rights in our society.

Morrison’s novel Beloved represents the African American community that have been carrying the burden of being slaves and had no human rights for a long time. Nothing, according to Baby Suggs, have seemed to change “Her past had been like her present intolerable” (Beloved, p. 4). From the very beginning of the novel this quote appeals to readers attention telling them that something has to be done to change lives of the black people. The wrongfulness of slavery and inequality is enormously magnified in the novel by Sethe, the mother, killing her small child Beloved. Sethe says that she loves her daughter so much and she states that she would “Give up her life, every minute and hour of it, to take back just one of Beloved’s tears. Did she know it hurt her when mosquitoes bit her baby?” it is hard to believe that she actually kills her own daughter (Beloved, p. 284).

Although, Sethe does not seem to regret what she has done “She had to be safe and I put her where she would be” because killing of her daughter was the only way she thought of as possible to save Beloved from the horror of slavery (Beloved, p. 236). Destruction of the Beloved’s body and body imagery in the novel shows the experiences and the past that black people went through. Also, Beloved’s body is not the only one that author utilizes to show the destruction of the body in her book. Another example is the Sethe’s mother, who was shipped from Africa and her body destruction identifies her as a slave “Right on her rib was a circle and a cross burnt right in the skin.” (Beloved, p. 72). Morrison uses body destruction as the trajectory of slavery. Changes in anatomy of the body show indescribable pain and the strong evidence of dehumanization. From reading the novel it becomes apparent that the physical signs of torturing and memories of the past are the permanent signs of suffering of the black people and they have to fight for their place in the society where their bodies would not be hurt.

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One of the most powerful descriptions of the destruction of the body are made by Coates in his novel Between the World and Me. Coates says that “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease.” (Between the World and Me, p. 17). The author believes that American society has failed to protect black people and he tells his son that the whole system “makes your body breakable.” (Between the World and Me, p. 17). Coates utilizes the body image as a tool to examine the effects of reality black people live in and to investigate the capacities of their black body, otherwise, how much it can handle and what needs to be done in order to preserve it. Body image in the novel is closely related to race “race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling… serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth” and it “all land, with great violence, upon the body” (Between the World and Me, p. 10). Coates writes his novel in the form of a letter to his son. By that, he creates an atmosphere of trust between him and his readers, as father would not lie to his son. Using this link of trust, he feels comfortable to question the righteousness of God and how the behavior of the white people does not match what they believe in “America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men” and he is asking “how do I live free in this black body” (Between the World and Me, p. 12). He uses the painful and vivid description of destroying the body “the branches of the black body might be torched, then cut away” (Between the World and Me, p. 14) and says that “body was a constant jeopardy” (Between the World and Me, p. 16) meaning that it was a constant target for life or death and one could simply “erase my body” (Between the World and Me, p. 19). According to Coates, American society destroys the body both physically and mentally “I was crippled by some childhood fear of my own body.” (Between the World and Me, p. 61). Various mistreatments and tortures of the body in Between the World and Me allows the writer to achieve his main goal to graphically display the pain and suffering that would arouse the anger and power in African Americans so they stand up and fight for their future because they deserve a better place in our society.

Another great example of using the destruction of body as a powerful tool of inducing the rage in African American people against racism is Kevin Young’s poem Money Road “whose giant gin fans,/ like those lashed & anchored/ to your beaten body,/ still turn. Shot, dumped, dredged, your face not even/ a mask—a marred,/ unspared, sightless stump -” (Young, Money Road, 84-90) This poem is based on a real murder case of a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago who was thrown in a river after being bitten up, gouged his eye out, and shot in the head because of the white woman lie that he was flirting with her. Poetry is a powerful form of writing. It is very effective in sending powerful, complex and emotional messages to the audience “all your mother insists/ we must see to know/ What they did/ to my baby.”(Young, Money Road, 90-93). Nothing can be stronger than the grief and cry of the mother for her lost baby whether it is a bird, an animal or a human being. The quote makes one’s heart ache. The author also uses homophones at the end of his poem “this cursed earth. Or is it cussed?” (Young, Money Road, 118-119) the purpose of which is to make people think and do something about this cussed earth that does not treat human beings equally.

Morrison, Coates and Young tell readers their stories using different styles and forms of writing but they all explore the reality and identify the hardship of being black in our society, inspiring people to fight for their equality. The authors use exploitation and destruction of the body in their works because it serves as a visual mean, such as a colorful painting, that makes it easier for their audience to comprehend and feel the urgency of the racism and inequality problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. Although physical destruction of the body is only a superficial level of addressing the racial problem, taking this approach helps the writers to go dipper and unveil all the miseries and pain of life of African American people across generations that in turn teaches them to get together and fight for equality and change of their status in the society.

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