Different Approaches to Racism in “A Letter from Birmingham” and “Between the World and Me”

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2023
Pages: 6 Views: 20

"The white man's happiness cannot be purchased by the black man's misery." Racism has always been a problem in America, even though people say we are equal now, but it still lives in the society's dark side. In Martin Luther King Junior's letter “A letter from Birmingham jail", King's thesis is to reason with the clergymen that they should support the "direct action", because there is an unjust law in the government and the church should know better than any community what tis morally wrong.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and me, his thesis is Race is a tool used to value some people more than others based on a certain heritage in society. Even though they are both talking about a situation where race is the core problem, they are reasoning different perspective of this situation. From Coates' diction we can tell that he feels hopeless because he could not even prevent this where as King is persuading people to support the minority and sees more hope in society. I believe they approached this situation in an exact opposite perspective, where king is very hopeful for the future and Coates has lost hope for the future.

In both of their essay, they have a very clear audience. Both of their essay are in the letter format, whereas the audience of the book or letter is very obvious. King states in the start of his letter, "My Dear Fellow Clergymen" (King 426). Also by using the word “fellow”, he implies that he has the same job as the clergymen. Coates also states the audience at the very beginning of the book. Coates also refers to his son many times in the book. He states, "And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestor. Struggle for the wisdom...Struggle for your name. But do not struggle for the dreamers" (Coates 151).

Order custom essay Different Approaches to Racism in “A Letter from Birmingham” and “Between the World and Me” with free plagiarism report

feat icon 450+ experts on 30 subjects feat icon Starting from 3 hours delivery
Get Essay Help

In the entire book, he is sharing his experience and giving advice for his son. At the same time, his audience can be many young African American who will be facing the struggle in the future. Even though their audience are very different, they both have a very serious tone. However, in Coates' book his tone was a little apologetic. He claims, “I am ashamed that I made an error, knowing that our errors always cost us more" (Coates 97). He feels sorry because he still lives in fear and now he is showing his son this brutal reality. On the other hand, King's tone is more criticizing. He suggests, "It is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence" (429). He is criticizing the clergymen for criticizing the African American's movement might cause potential violence.

Both of their essays show their different believes in America's future and their different hope for the future of America. King thinks that there is still hope in this society because he states "[S]ome of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it...They [have] recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful 'action' antidotes to combat the disease of segregation" (King 435) He believes as long as people are realizing segregation is unjust; therefore, he believes that people should come and support their movement.

In Coates' book, his purpose seems to be urging his son to be aware and aware of "the Dreamers" around him. "I thought of all the beautiful black people I'd seen at The Mecca, ...and none of it could save them from the mark of plunder and the gravity of our particular world. And it occurred to me that you would not escape, that there were awful men, ... and I could not stop them” (81). Even though he seemed hopeful while he described all the beautiful people he has seen at Mecca, he compares this to a situation where his son is not able to escape reality and warns his son to be aware.

Pathos is a tool to draw emotional response from their audience. In King's letter he uses Pathos to let the clergymen understand what the black community are going through. King asserts "I guess It is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say 'wait'...living constantly at tiptop stance never quite knowing what to expect next" (King 429). By expressing their pain caused by the white American, he can win sympathy and gain support from the clergymen. In this paragraph King also uses of diction and image really draws an emotional picture in the audience's mind.

For example, King uses words such as "brutalize”, “nate-filled policemen", "humiliated” and “tears welling eyes" to create an image that the white American have been treating them so awful and they are trying so hard to fight for their rights. In Coates book he uses pathos to show the different life black American and white American live. "This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as much" (Coates 91). This is a very sad scene, where he compares how the white little children are educated to the little black boys. In both of their use of pathos, they are trying to win sympathy or to show pain caused by white American.

There are two type of logos, logical argument, Inductive and deductive. In Obama's essay he uses logos to reason with the clergymen why he took "direct action" (King 429). He argues, "So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation” (King 429). He implies that it wasn't their will to take direct action, but the doors to negotiation are never open to the black community. For Coates he uses inductive logos to show the glory of today's America are built on black bodies. He argues, "When 8 percent of the world's prisoners are black men, our bodies have refinanced the dream of being white. Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value" (Coates 132).

Coates suggests that white American have always used black American lives as stepping stones to do their dirty work while they live in "The Dream" (Coates 33). Coates uses logical appeal to point out the sad truth in America, while King uses logical appeal to explain why they took “direct action” (King 429). They are both very creditable people who have accomplished a lot in their lives. However, they still use Ethos in their essay to support their arguments. King uses many historic figures support his argument. He quotes from an early Christian writer Saint Augustine, "Any unjust law is no law at all" (King 430). He quotes from a Christian writer because he knows his audience are Christian believers; thus, he uses information that his audience believe to make him more trustworthy.

Coates did not use many historic figures; however, he establishes credibility by creating an image of a caring father writing to his son. He states, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body-it is heritage" (Coates 103). Even though this is a depressing truth, he is warning his son from what he concluded all of his life. He uses mostly his personal experience of an African American in his book to establish his credibility.

In conclusion the way they approach racism is different. Coates believes that racism is a tool used to measure people in different ranks; whereas, he warns his son to be aware of the society and be aware of the struggle. At the end, he mentions that he feels sorry chaining on the "fear" to his son and wish that he can live on without the "fear" that he had to live with.

Throughout the "The letter to Birmingham Jail" King is persuading the clergymen to support their movement, because he knows that if people fight for freedom they will eventually get it. King thinks that there is still hope in this society as long as the African American and white people work in unity. On the other hand, Coates in his book had never asked to change or to fight back for their rights.

Cite this Page

Different Approaches to Racism in “A Letter from Birmingham” and “Between the World and Me”. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/different-approaches-to-racism-in-a-letter-from-birmingham-and-between-the-world-and-me/

Don't let plagiarism ruin your grade

Run a free check or have your essay done for you

plagiarism ruin image

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer