One of the most important concepts in the book is the Dream, which is Coates’ own twist on the idea of the American Dream. Traditionally, the American Dream refers to the idea that, due to the freedom and equality of opportunity built into the foundation of the country, anyone can achieve prosperity in the US as long as they work hard enough. Coates’ version of this story is notably different. In Between the World and Me, Coates emphasizes the fact that the US was not built on a foundation of freedom and equality at all, but was in fact constructed through the exploitation and oppression of black people.
Rather than being disconnected from the Dream, however, this exploitation and oppression is deeply implicated within the aspiration for security and material success. White people have profited from the brutal treatment of black people since the slavery era and continue to do so in the present. Coates emphasizes that the Dream does not exist without racist injustice, as material prosperity in the US is inevitably tied to the exploitation of African Americans.
Coates refers to the people who buy into the Dream as “Dreamers.” They are characterized not only by their choice to live in fancy houses in the suburbs and other cultural dimensions of the Dream, but also by their belief in the false myths of American history, including the idea that the country is equal and just and that pursuing the Dream is morally innocent. Although not all Dreamers are white, the Dream is deeply tied to whiteness. In many ways, those who pursue the Dream aspire to a white way of life, even if they are not white themselves.
The Dream Quotes in Between the World and Me
For so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.
The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.
Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief.
Black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers––lost in their great reverie––feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here.