I believed, and still do, that our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh.
This quotation from Part II, page 79, occurs when Coates remembers Prince Jones’ funeral. The pastor prays for forgiveness for the killer, but Coates thinks about how the police officer is not Prince’s only killer. Coates believes that it is America’s opinion that the nation has the right to destroy black bodies and has been doing it for a long time. Therefore, it is the whole country that has killed Prince because the officer is merely a product of his nation’s systemic racism.
Coates is unable to grieve in the same way as the rest of the people in the church because he is not religious, and, to him, Prince’s death doesn’t serve any higher purpose. Prince, like all people, was inextricably tied to his body, and when that body died, so did his spirit. The people around Coates in the church believe that not all of Prince has died. As Christians, they believe that Prince will move beyond his body into the afterlife. But Coates believes that the soul and spirit are in our physical selves. Once the body dies, there is nothing left. If the soul is electricity in neurons and nerves, and the spirit is the flesh, then destroying the body destroys all of a person. One thing Coates admires about the body is that it functions as a vessel for one’s heritage. Thus, this quote is central to understanding why Coates holds the black body in such high regard—it is, in effect, holy.