Both an untamed city by Roxanne Gay and Between the worldand me by Ta-Nehisi Coates are powerful works on the legacies ofracialized slavery in the American history and on contemporary socialrelations. The two writers all write about the consequences ofthinking and treating black bodies as property like something to beowned or stolen, or as a commodity like something which whose valuecan be quantified and can be sold or bought. The treatment of blackbodies in this manner is itself not surprising considering thehistory of America and legacies of chattel slavery. However, Roxanneand Ta-Nehisi use metaphors of confinement or captivity and theft inexceedingly creative ways, often to define present-day socialrelations. Whereas Roxanne uses bodily captivity, Ta-Nehisi usesobjectification of the black body to highlight the legacies ofracialized slavery in American history and the present-day socialrelations.
An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay is a story of wealth in theface of devastating poverty, and the uncontrollable anger created bythe corrupt governments. Roxanne narrates the story of a determinedwoman trying to find her way back to the being she once was, and ofhow redemption is established in the most unexpected of places. Thebook establishes Roxanne as a writer of exceptional, fascinatingtalent. The book can be described as artful, disturbing, andoriginal. An Untamed State has very many things crammed together intoone book. There is the harsh intersection between reality andfantasy, the domestic clashing within families, the widespreadbrutalization of women by men, the dimensions of human beings tochange, and the culture shock between individuals in an ethnicallymixed relationship. All these are packed into what is an eventfulkidnap scenario, together with bits and pieces of crime fiction-although Roxanne has a bigger agenda of portraying the legacies ofracialized slavery in the American history and on the present-daysocial relations. Roxanne Gay writes about the struggles of MireilleDuval Jameson, who is the determined youngest daughter of Haiti’swealthiest sons. She has a loving husband, an intelligent infant son,and by all appearances, she was a flawless life. The happiness comesto an end one day when she is kidnapped openly by a gang of heavilyarmed men, in front of her father’s house. Mireille is held captiveby “Commander”, the leader of the gang, as she waits for herfather to pay the ransom demanded by the gang. It turns out that herfather resists the kidnappers and Mireille must withstand tormentsand repeated rape by a man who dislikes everything about her.
Roxanne presents the consequent treatment of Mireille by herkidnappers in a totally merciless fashion, bringing out the same kindof kidnap and torture scenario used by other writers, but he iscloser to the humanity than the pitilessness of the others. Roxanne’sproud and ruthless father resists the kidnappers and refuses to paythe ransom, and she adamantly refuses to beg. The infuriatedkidnapers retaliate with a ceaseless siege of torture and rape.Roxanne compares the brutality of the present with the romantic pastas the traumatized yet stoical Mireille remembers their rockycourtship with her husband. The gangsters were demanding a highransom from her rich father as an impractical attempt at revenge forthe economic inequality in the whole of Haiti. Mireille’skidnapping is a crime perpetrated in service to a shambolic politicalsystem that expediently makes no room for the humanity of women.
Over the course of thirteen days, as she awaits to be rescued,Mireille agonizes mercilessly at the hands of her captives. When shetells Commander that neither she nor her family are responsible forHaiti’s woes, he replies with an accusation that she is compliciteven if she did not actively contribute to the problem since she didnothing to solve it. The anger of the Commander is not actuallyagainst Mireille, who was brought up in the US, but against herfather, who created a fine living in the US and made enough money butdid not feel true agency for his fate in a foreign country. AlthoughMireille and her siblings are able to create good lives in America,her father could not resist the pull to return home. He returns toHaiti and builds an extremely lucrative construction company. Roxannedoes not clarify whether Mireille’s wealth is ill-gained, due tothe corruption rampant country although the book puts forward that ina nation as poor as Haiti, wealth is essentially criminal. Afterbeing released by her kidnapers, Roxanne follows her endeavors toreconstruct herself back together.
Roxanne’s book is developed around the query of how a woman’sbody can tolerate as penalty for her father’s wrongs. She bringsout Mirille’s body as an object, on which political war is foughtby men who use it for their own sociopolitical cause. Rape culture isassociated with dehumanization and objectifying women. Mireille wasobjectified by her captives, and the sex violence against her iscondoned because they merely thought of her as an object and not afellow human (Gay 36).
On the other hand, Between the world and me is an open letter fromCoates to his son, Samori, aged fifteen years. He incorporates hispersonal, intellectual, and historical development into hiscontemplations on how to live in a black body in the US. Coates isprompted to write the letter to his son following the son’sdumbfounded and brokenhearted reaction to the broadcast that DarrenWilson, the police officer in the killing of unarmed youth MichaelBrown, would not be charged. Coates writes about his childhood in theslums of Baltimore where he learned the rules of the street in orderto live, but did not totally internalized them. His father was verystrict, but he now sees that black parents often have to be hard sothat they do not lose their children. To grow up in Baltimore as ablack person meant growing up, poor, marginalized, as well as anxiousto assert one’s humanity. The arrogance and noise of the men on thecorners was a way of protecting their existence and announcing theirpresence as human beings.
Growing up as a teenager, education and religion looked useless toCoates, but he went on studying so as to attend Howard University.There, he went through an academic awakening, surprised at thevariety of blacks at Howard, and studied black history and blackwriters. At Howard, he met his future wife and several lastingfriends, began writing and ultimately become a journalist. While atHoward, Coates heard of the death of Prince Jones, one of hisclassmates. Jones was an attractive, compelling, and prosperous blackperson who was murdered by police in a racism situation, just likeothers mentioned in the beginning of his work. The death of Jonesmade Coates extremely angry, disheartened, and resentful. He clearlysaw how black bodies were valueless in the US and could be destroyedindiscriminately. Even originating from a privileged background couldnot save a black person. Coates asserts that it was not personal tothe particular officer who killed Jones because he was a directcountenance of America’s beliefs.
This particular history of the obliteration of the black body, whichCoates asserts is the heritage of this nation, is not only engrainedin slavery but in the demoralizing laws, battles of the civil war,police cruelty and racial outlining, as well as development and thepromotion of the dream. The aspect of dream is one of the key themesof Coates’s work. It avers that American people long for luxury, anice housing in an out-of-town neighborhood, security, pool partiesand other niceties of life. This is what those individuals who thinkthey are white strive for and declare an honorable goal. They shuttheir eyes to all that is uncomfortable, not believing that they areracist, and thinking that if they achieve the dream, it is because ofdetermination and courage alone, and not the privileges of theirsupposed whiteness.
Coates communicates to Samori unswervingly about the threats of beinga young black youth. According to him, being a black teenager entailsbeing “twice as good” and being responsible for other blackpeople’s actions, being able to discern and follow “the rules”,and struggling more than everybody else. Coates acknowledges thatSamori has grown up much different than him and that they havedifferent experiences of being black, but the blunt truth remainsthat living in a black body in the US is full of risks. It hurts himthat he cannot do anything to help his son or make things right. Hestates that it is overwhelmingly frustrating to continuously be the“Below” of one’s nation and to constantly have to try harder.
Coates finishes his ‘letter” by giving a description of his visitto Prince Jones’s mother, Dr Mabel Jones. He listens keenly to herlife story and wonders at her strength, courage, and sophistication.He comes to understand that Mabel Jones agonizes under theweightiness of knowing that her country never cared about her son,murdered him, and forgot him. Coates concludes the letter by sayingthat there is slight chance that the dreamers will wake out ofignorance into awareness. They will carry on to destroy the earth thesame way they destroy the black bodies. In future, there will be aday of payback, but it is not a thing to look forward to because whenthe Dreamers earn what they planted, everybody else will also. Blackpersons need to celebrate in their society and find happiness in itsince it is what they have. The tussle is tough but it gives meaningto this life.
Throughout his book, Coates mentions original concepts one of whichis the human body, which he references persistently. He beseeches thebody as the central entity of man’s existence and also highlightsthat white and black bodies have taken part in the development ofAmerican history. Coates artfully uses the body to shed light to thelegacies of racialized slavery in American history and today`s socialrelations (Coates 36). Remembering his youthful years, he describeshis sentience that “not being violent enough could cost him hisbody. Being violent cost him his body.” Sometime later he says thatthe “Expansive prison system has become a storage of blackbodiesinto a jobs program for dreamers….” Meaning that the black bodieswere being used for slavery by the white. Coates states that theblack life is cheap, but in the US they are a natural source of highvalue (Coates 56). All through the book he also talks about thestealing of physical figures, from the time of slave trade to theprison job program combination, and physical activity itself, theabsence of safety irrationally, created by relentless reconnaissance,when individuals mandated to protect you visualize themselves asguarding the others from you.
The two writers write about the significances of thinking andtreating black bodies as property or a commodity. Although thesettings and context of their works are different, the theme of thehuman body is artfully presented. They both show that the sufferingsor the ordeals of the victims in their stories are brought about as aresult of objectification of their bodies. Both writers also usebodily captivity to highlight the legacy of racialized slavery in theUS history and today’s social relations. Treating of black bodiesas objects or commodities is not a rare occurrence in Americaconsidering its history and legacy of chattel slavery.
Both books an untamed city by Roxanne Gay and Between theworld and me by Coates are powerful works on the legacies ofracialized slavery in the American history and on contemporary socialrelations. An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay is a story ofwealth in the face of devastating poverty, and the uncontrollableanger created by the corrupt governments. Roxanne narrates the storyof a determined woman, Mireille Jameson, trying to find her way backto the being she once was, after being kidnaped, and of howredemption is established in the most unexpected of places. Betweenthe world and me is an open letter from Coates to his son, Samori,aged fifteen years, which he incorporates his personal, intellectual,and historical development into his contemplations on how to live ina black body in the US. Both writers write about the significances ofthinking and treating black bodies as property or a commodity.
Coates,Ta-Nehisi. Betweenthe world and me.Text publishing, 2015.
Gay, Roxane."An Untamed State." (2014).