Between the World and Me

Take-Home Test #2
Question #1: Please read this short excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between
the World and Me (2015). In these passages, Coates touches on multiple themes
that we have discussed in class. Please pick TWO themes and discuss them. How
would you explain what Coates is talking about to someone unfamiliar with these
ideas? Briefly quote the text to make clear which parts you are referring to when
discussing each theme. Your response should be 1-2 pages long (double-spaced,
12-point font, 1-inch margins).
(Note: this book is written in the form of a letter to Coates’ teenage son, Samori.)
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.
The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far
west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close
the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the
host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of
words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the
subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to
intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their
request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather
the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and
violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this
question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
There is nothing extreme in this statement. Americans deify democracy in a way that
allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God. But
democracy is a forgiving God and America’s heresies – torture, theft, enslavement – are so
common among individuals and nations that none can declare themselves immune. In fact,
Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God. When Abraham Lincoln declared, in
1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for
the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he was not merely being aspirational; at the onset of
the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world.
The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our
country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people” to actually mean. In 1863 it
did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. Thus America’s
problem is not its betrayal of “government of the people,” but the means by which “the people”
acquired their names.
This leads us to another equally important ideal, one that Americans implicitly accept but
to which they make no conscious claim. Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined,
indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism – the need to ascribe bone-deep features to
people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them inevitably follows from this inalterable
condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is
left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a
tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.
But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has
never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in
hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these
factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are
indelible – this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up
hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.
These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no
real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something
else before they were white – Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish – and if all our
national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again. Perhaps they
will truly become American and create a nobler basis for their myths. I cannot call it. As for
now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the
belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather
through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of
limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of
children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure
and govern our own bodies.
Question #2: Read these excerpts from Angela Chen’s book Ace: What Asexuality
Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex (2020). What feminist
conceptual framework – liberal, radical, or reclamation – is embodied in the idea
that feminists should be sexually active? Why is this idea problematic according to
Chen? Finally, what do you think Chen is gesturing towards when she says “maybe
more men should have sex the way women supposedly do”? (Which feminist
conceptual framework is she implicitly invoking here?) Your response should be 1-
2 pages long (double-spaced, 12-point font, 1-inch margins).
From Chapter 4, “Just Let Me Liberate You”
“Repressed” is the opposite of “liberated.” An insult. In culturally liberal circles, the sexually
conservative woman is often considered to be sexually repressed—and the sexually repressed
woman is a symbol of a time before freedom. She is uptight and in denial, white-knuckling her
way through life. She is the perfectly coiffed fifties housewife, lacking the ease of liberated
counterparts who are in touch with their bodies and secure with their place in the world. The
sexually repressed woman is an object of pity and a reminder of the importance of progress. She
is embarrassing.
I believed all of the assumptions embedded in this archetype of the woman who doesn’t embrace
sex: that she is prudish and prim, that she hasn’t done the proper work of liberating herself from
shame, and that she is politically conservative too. […]
My ideas about the humiliation of repression and the meaning of liberated sexuality did not come
from nowhere. For so long, women have been encouraged to deny our sexual needs and instead
serve the needs of men. Our worth is tied to sex. We are sexualized until we are too old, yet
shamed and policed for being sexual ourselves, prevented from exploring what we desire or are
allowed to desire—and this is doubly true if the women in question aren’t straight. […]
Throwing off repression is necessary, according to sex-positive feminism, because men control
and shame women into not having sex. Shame can be so ingrained that it feels natural, so active
work is required to overcome hesitation. Encouraging women to try whatever necessary to enjoy
sex is praxis. […] It is then the strong, brave women who think critically about shame, who break
free from patriarchy and reclaim their pleasure. Enjoying sex is proof that someone has done the
work of self-liberation while staying at home alone can feel like disappointing the activists who
worked so hard to offer women other and more exciting options.
And if having sex liberates, then kinkier and more transgressive sex will be even more liberatory,
both personally and politically. This belief is an inversion of a concept called the charmed circle,
coined by anthropologist Gayle Rubin in her 1984 paper “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical
Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” The charmed circle illustrates the existence of a hierarchy of
sex acts. Inside the charmed circle is everything that is socially acceptable, which traditionally
means monogamous, married, vanilla, heterosexual sex in private. Outside these borders would
be, for example, promiscuous sex, group sex, and so on. The charmed circle represented the
conservative, rigid status quo.
Instead of realizing that the problem is the very existence of the charmed circle, liberals simply
reversed it. Now, much of what was on the outside has become charmed and elevated. As
University of Missouri gender studies professor Elisa Glick writes, the quest for a feminist
sexuality free of male violence “is replaced by the quest for a politically incorrect sexuality that
transgresses movement standards.” In other words, the more “transgressive” the act, the more
inherently liberated it is from old norms and old politics and the better it is, and the more
liberated you are when you do it. New rules are put in place. … [A] new kind of sexual
normativity has developed. Preferences are judged if they do not align with this correct—
politically incorrect to conservatives—vision of female sexuality. Transgressive sex becomes a
political act against patriarchy; its opposite, submission to patriarchy. Asexuality does not exist
but is only the byproduct of male oppression. […]
The assumption of a ubiquitous, voracious libido ignores the reality of sexual variation. The idea
that there always exists some secret sexual self to liberate only makes sense if you believe that
we are all the same deep down—that everyone wants the same things, only some of us don’t
know yet that we get off on being flogged. Because sexual variation exists, there is no universal
vision of liberated sexuality. The personal is political, but what’s best for each person may be
different. Liberated sexuality—that is, sexuality free from social shaming—can look like
promiscuity or it can look like celibacy. And because liberated sexuality exists in many forms,
there is no reason that being sexually conservative must mean being sexually repressed and no
reason that being sexually conservative must prevent one’s political radicalism.
Twenty-two years old, arrogant and reckless and also scared, I did not challenge the belief that a
good feminist would not be apathetic to sex. I also clung to a related mutation of feminist values:
that women should not only be able to do what men supposedly do but that they were superior if
they could do what men do—which in the realm of sex meant hookups and sex only for physical
pleasure. This (misguided) version of sexual liberation felt necessary, yet I berated myself for
being so conservative and unable to change. I read The Ethical Slut and blog posts promising to
teach me how to “hack myself into being polyamorous,” and filled out worksheets to “map my
jealousy” and try to contain it or, better yet, obliterate it. I believed that my desire for monogamy
and disinterest in casual sex were not preferences worthy of honoring, but political and moral
failings that must be overcome. I thought I was weak and stupid. . .
Falling into any female stereotype, like wanting emotional commitment before sex, felt like
defeat, so the sole hookup of my life had been in pursuit of political growth, not for anything
remotely close to pleasure. By going out and having sex “like a man,” I had destroyed the
possibility of myself as the caricature of a sentimental damsel waiting for true love. […]
The righteous woman once guarded her virginity jealously to prove that she’s pure. Now it can
be more appealing to throw it away at first glance to prove she doesn’t believe in purity. She
once hewed to gender stereotypes to prove she belonged; now she is valorized for having sex the
way men stereotypically do, though maybe more men should have sex the way women
supposedly do.

Save your time - order a paper!

Get your paper written from scratch within the tight deadline. Our service is a reliable solution to all your troubles. Place an order on any task and we will take care of it. You won’t have to worry about the quality and deadlines

Order Paper Now