Growing up in West Baltimore, Coates learns that there are severe consequences that await him if he makes a mistake as the price of error is higher for a Black man. Based on his experiences on the streets, he is able to grasp a understanding of what it means to be black in American society. At the age of 11, Coates stands out in the parking lot in front of 7/11 and watches as a group of older light skinned boys surround each other and one of them pulls out a gun, however the boy does not shoot. Coates realizes, “He did not need to shoot. He had affirmed my place in the order of things”(Coates 19). The boy did not need to shoot as just by pointing the gun was enough for Coates to understand the power dynamic in society. Those who are light-skinned have more power in society than darker-skinned people as being white is the norm and so the closer one is being white the more power that they have. Black people with darker skin will always be seen at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Coates recognizes how the white world treats people of color and that their lives can be taken away at any moment. Being a black boy on the streets of Baltimore, Coates realizes that the “price of error” is higher for Black people which impacts his behavior where he needs to be extra careful in every action he takes in his daily. His life is in constant threat, in which the next day is never a guarantee. Learning how the streets of Baltimore operates, is key for Black people because their race plays a big role in how they are treated by white people and even light-skinned in society.Whites in Baltimore have a completely different life, they do not have to deal with violence and fear of death. Whites are dreamers who live in the Dream, where they do not have to focus on their actions, rather they can go about their lives without fear that they are going to be questioned or judged. Ultimately it causes, Coates to grasp the idea of if he messes up, there will be no second chances available for him.
Coates goes to college at Howard where he finds a diverse amount of black students, that are all connected due to there skin color and thus comprehends why the “price of error” is higher for Black folks. For the first time, Coates feels that black people are recognized, rather than a society dominated by whites. Education in society primarily focuses on white people and history of Black people is never recognized. Being at a college, with variation and where being black is not considered an outsider and he does not have to be in fear for his life. At Howard University, he meets a man named Prince Jones who is just like him. He is a young man, who comes from a richer family than Coates. Coates sees Prince Jones as the representation of the ideal black body. One day, Coates picks up the school newspaper and sees that Prince Jones is shot by a police officer and says to himself, “I knew that Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth (78).” This allows Coates to come to the realization that Prince Jones is not killed by a single racist individual, rather the racist institutions in this white society, that normalize racism. Prince Jones is mistaken for a person that did not match up with Coates’s characteristics, however this did not matter. The cop sees the color of his skin and Jones is instantly judged. Being the only witness at the scene, no one would believe him, a black man, so seen as the “bad” guy. Coates notices how easily he could have been killed just because he is a black man and therefore acknowledges the fear that black people. The death of Prince Jones allows Coates to detect that the “price of error is higher”, for a Black man, as it does not matter the social class one belongs to, at the end of the day it always comes down to the color of one’s skin. Prince Jones was still at mercy of the cops and in that second that’s all that matters. His life was not valuable to society regardless of how good he was and his body is essentially worthless, which proved that how American Society views black folks good or bad. He comes to the understanding that no black body is safe from violence acts, and at any time the black body is and can be destroyed. Everything must be done carefully because one mistake can cost them their life.
After leaving Howard, Coates moves to New York and still faces the same racist struggles due to his race. thought they would live a better life, however the racist ideas follow them. Coates takes his son, Samori out to see a movie. Coming down the escalator, a white women push his son, and as a protective father, Coastes runs down to protect his black body. Coates stands up for his son and begins arguing with the lady, when another white man comes to help her. The white man comes up and says that he could have gotten Coates arrested at the scene. Hearing that, he backs away, realizing that if this were to happen, his son would be left all alone. Coates tells himself “I had forgotten the rules, an error as dangerous on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as on the Westside of Baltimore. One must be without error out here (95).” He violates the rules that comes with living in a white world. Living in New York is completely different as he forgets that now he lives in a society surrounded by whites. Every action taken by a black man would be look at twice. His skin color causes him to receive a threat that his black body can be taken away and that he will always be questioned as he is different than the norm. Being a person of color he is always looked at and judged no matter the circumstances. The white women was not asked anything, because they are so used to having that privilege that they do not know how to deal with conflict. The white woman knows that she is in power, as society reminds her, and nothing will happen to her as she has privilege that protects her from severe consequences. Coates goes against the rules of an American society which he knows he has to obey. Before taking any action, he needs to think about it twice because the consequences for him will be much higher due to his race.
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