This book is a letter addressed by the author to his 15-year-old son: Samori.
Ta Nehisi Coates relates the fears of his youth while growing up in West Baltimore. “When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid..… The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats… which was their armor against their world. “
Everybody knew someone who had lost a child or adult life violence, jail, or drugs. “I saw it (fear) in my own father, who loves you.” But if the young Coates got in trouble, which he often said he did, his father would crack the belt, “which he applied with more anxiety than anger. “
Coates tells his son that “fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the Dream out there, to the unworried boys, to pie and pot roast, to the white fences and green lawns nightly beamed into a television sets. “
The author explains that the law did not protect the Black community. “And now in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping in frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body. “
Coates repeats several times in his letter that he had been a curious boy. His mother taught him to read and write when he was very young. His father was a research librarian at Howard University; his father loved and owned many books by and about Blacks.
Coates suffered at the hands of both the streets and the schools. He believed the schools “were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance…. When the elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning, but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing. Schools did not reveal truths, they can concealed them. “
Ta-Nehisi questioned the need for school: “Their are laws were aimed at something distant and vague.” It was not the classroom but the library that he loved. “The library was open, unending, free. “
Coates wants his son to ask many of the same questions as mother had put to him: “Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher; why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect; how would I want someone to behave while I was talking?” author goes on to state that his mother’s assignments did not curb his behavior, but because these were the earliest acts of interrogation, of drawing myself into consciousness… she was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing— myself. “
It was later at Howard University and especially The Mecca, that Ta-Nehisi he was formed and shaped.
The Mecca: A machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body… We have made something down here. We have taken the one drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. Here at the mecca under pain of selection, we have made a home as do black people on summer blocks marked with needles, violence, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at their family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe.