Coates starts the book with ‘Son’ since it is a letter to his son Samori. The book is divided into three sections.
In part 1, Coates starts by narrating about a moment where he was in an interview for a show and was asked to describe what is meant by losing his body. The host did not use the words specifically, but the main question was to share why he believed that the success and progress of America were bound to violence and looting of the people.
He questions the American glorification of democracy and states that even though America has kept its promise on having a “government by the American people,” there was trouble in the meaning of “people.” Americans believe that they have an understanding of race, but the white people achieved their progress through pillaging, oppression, flaying, and slavery. Although this was happening all over the world, America views itself as extraordinary, by believing their false sense of democracy. Coates means to hold America to the exceptional democracy standards it believes in.
His son has turned 15, and that year they have seen the deaths of Tamir Rice, Renisha Mcbride, Eric Garner, Michael Brown among others. The people responsible are not held accountable since the police departments wield power to destroy the bodies of black people, literally.
Samori, the author’s son comes to learn that they were to free the killers of Micheal Brown, and this results in him crying in his room. Coates cannot comfort him but only tell his son that he has to find how to live through it all. The world is goal oriented and living freely in a black person’s body seems like an illusion.
Coates is often afraid. He used to see the fear growing up, in the music, their words, in their eyes. Their clothes represented attempts to seek some control in their lives. Coates has had to survive in the streets using his brain. His son has lived differently and has grown during the reign of a black president. However, he believes the street rules are not important to pass to his son.
Coates resented the school system they went through due to their vague rules that only sought their compliance. He was also not religious, even though his grandmother tried to teach him to become so. He read the books about the civil rights movement from his grandfather’s collection, and this lead to differing thoughts with the methods they used.
He came across Malcolm X and admired him. He admired how Malcolm was a pragmatist and would not bend to oppression. He remembers Malcolm’s phrases that stated that if one was black, they were born in jail. Maybe they were supposed to relocate to a word of their own, their Mecca.