In Coates’, “Between Me and the World”, he provided an overview of the struggles and pitfalls that black people will mostly likely encounter at one point or another. Along with the struggles, Coates provides advice to all young black people, specifically boys growing up in America. Contrastingly, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was essentially a story of how Vance went from “rags to riches” with the help of his family and loved ones who made sure he could achieve the “American Dream.” Vance was a testament to the belief that no matter your socioeconomic status, as long as you work hard you will be successful. Both of these books vividly described what life entailed being black, and life as a hillbilly. Although the books vary in certain aspects, they share some similarities as well. Each book had a unique perspective on pressing issues that Americans face daily.
Between Me and the World is a book that offers advice for the upcoming generation of African-Americans as they come to grips with their black bodies. Coates compared the murders to great sheets of rain to emphasize the frequency of occurrence in his community. Prince Jones served as a symbol of irony throughout the book. He symbolized Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and all the other innocent black bodies gunned down over the years. The irony of Prince Jones was that he was an overall great guy. He grew up in an affluent neighborhood, yet still was gunned down by a policeman. Another irony was the manner in which the investigation was conducted, instead of investigating the cop they focused all their attention to Prince Jones in an attempt to vilify him. Howard University, Coates’ alma mater, served as a symbol of a safe haven for black people where they can flourish and be unapologetically black. Chicago and Baltimore symbolized the battlefield where blacks kill each other every day. Coates’ first love symbolized how diverse black people can truly be. The setting of this book took place in Baltimore, Chicago, Paris, and Washington D.C. A few themes that reoccurred in the book were Racism in America, “The Dream”, education, the black body, and family.
Hillbilly Elegy, however was a critique of the working class that affirmed the idea that “The American Dream” can be achieved through hard work and determination. Vance made a profound statement which essentially held that poverty has become a tradition for those in his community. Essentially, he was saying that they are accustomed to poverty and the lifestyle that accompanies it. Vance describes his parents’ financial income, $100,000 combined, which definitively excluded them from the working class. His family members symbolized the values and beliefs held by many hillbillies to be true in the community. The story’s setting took place in Middletown, Ohio where he grew up, though he spent many summers in Jackson, Kentucky. After high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq. Later, he graduated from Ohio State University and would go on to receive a law degree from Yale and become a very successful lawyer. The American Dream and education were major themes in this book.
It was fascinating to see how Coates tied every day occurrences that black people experience into a larger sense, showing how detrimental these pitfalls were for the advancement of “our” people and how the world tirelessly fought to exterminate black and brown bodies. Perhaps Coates could have benefitted from a more pious position, as his lack of faith in a higher power and blasphemous outlook placed a dark shadow over the book. It seemed like he did not see the point of religion at all. I agreed with the idea that in some instances non-violence will not get you the desired result and it is imperative to take action on your own accord. I did not agree with Coates’ assertion that “black on black crime” is essentially jargon. I believe it stemmed from slavery, but I am not sure it was created by “The Dreamers.” However, in the book authored by Vance I liked the honesty and transparency in which he told the story of his upbringing and the demons he wrestled with and still wrestles with to this day. What I did not care for was how Vance “blamed the victim” without looking at the structural problems the government has instituted. Vance said, “We are more socially isolated than ever and we pass that isolation down to our children.” I agreed with this quote because it explains the close-mindedness and the racial bias that is taught to the children which is the reason they perceive the world completely from others. What I did not agree with was when Vance said that unemployment and addiction are self-inflicted. I believe to some degree this is true, but some circumstances are out of the individual’s control. Though both authors come from vastly different perspectives, there is certainly value to be gleaned from both texts, and critiques to be made of both assertions.
Thank you for taking the time to read, “Blacks vs. Hillbillies” by Xavier Henderson. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at www.loweryinstitute.org. Let us be the change!