Here is what I would like for you to know: in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.
This quotation from Part II, page 103, occurs when Coates visits Gettysburg. The stark and blunt quotation reflects the stark, deadly battlefield. Coates is thinking about slavery and how it was the central point of the Civil War. He imagines George Pickett’s men charging Abraham Brian’s free black community, believing that it was their birthright to steal those black men. The white soldiers believed it was their right because they had been told and shown that it was. It was traditional for them. He also thinks about how the government stole black bodies in order to monetize them. Coates is considering the fact that America was literally built on the backs of slaves. The cotton they produced was the economic powerhouse of the country.
Coates uses this quotation, in part, to emphasize the destruction that slavery really entailed. Slaves’ bodies were destroyed through beatings, rape, and brandings, amongst other forms of torture. White people in America have enslaved and have been destroying black people for centuries. This destruction has happened for so long and with such totality that, at the time of the Civil War, many white people truly did believe it was their right to acquire slaves in the way someone acquires any other product. Through this quotation, Coates makes the point that the tradition is still true today, even if it doesn’t involve physical enslavement. There is still mass incarceration, mass poverty, and a disproportionate number of black people arrested or murdered.