What are the tone and message of the work?
Coates is more of a teacher than a preacher. His words and tone are not very hopeful or inspiring; there is a degree of pessimism and disillusionment that pervades the work. Solace and platitudes are absent. He counsels Samori to struggle and endure but does not pretend it will be easy for him. The work is incredibly personal, intimate, and poetic. He connects his own history to a larger history and paints a nuanced picture of what Samori is up against. He eschews religion and other false messages of uplift and redemption in favor of unvarnished honesty.
What does Coates believe is "between the world and me"?
Coates ponders this stirring phrase from his forebearers Wright and Baldwin. Why can't he get to the Dream? Why is it beguiling but elusive? He comes to see that it is not exactly his race, but the fact that "white" people decided that "blackness" exists: "And I saw what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do" (120). The Dreamers need their "below" in that they need to keep their exalted position by dint of subjugating others. "White" and "black" are artificial constructs, but they were created by the dominant group to derive and maintain power.
What role does Malcolm X play in Coates's intellectual development?
When Coates was growing up, he was disenchanted with the Civil Rights Movement heroes who practiced nonviolence. He wondered why their heroes always had to be nonviolent; he disliked their vacant expressions and how they consented to let their bodies be subjugated. Malcolm X was a breath of fresh air for him because he saw that Malcolm X did not lie and was a real political pragmatist. He did not sugarcoat his message for whites and he certainly did not turn the other cheek. He was fully in possession of his body and mind and was self-taught in the ways Coates aspired to emulate.
What are Coates's thoughts on religion?
Coates is clearly an atheist, detailing how he was raised in a home devoid of religion by people unwilling to promote what they considered false hope. Coates had no spiritual framework that provided "uplift" or promised redemption. Religion brings about a blindness to the realities of white supremacy; while black Christians hope and pray for justice, their bodies are being destroyed. It promotes exploitation, not autonomy. This differentiates Coates from black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama, and places him closer to Baldwin and Malcolm X (whose Nation of Islam was different from Christianity).
According to Coates, how can change be achieved?
Ultimately, Coates does not really believe it likely that things can change. The Dreamers are too willfully ignorant, too blind, too comfortable. They are used to plundering because it is their heritage. They will most likely not be able to wake into consciousness any time soon. And as for individuals who want to bring about this awakening, "this is a myth. Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen... black people have not - probably no people have ever - liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts" (96). All anyone can do is keep up the struggle to remain sane and alive, and not rely on false hope or grandiose dreams of noble, solitary heroes.