Ta-Nehisi Coates (1975- ) is an American writer who just won a MacArthur Genius Grant ($625,000 over five years). He is best known for “The Case for Reparations” (2014) in the Atlantic magazine, for which he works, and his book “Between the World and Me” (2015).
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of ‘Between the World and Me’, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.”
“Baldwin was a great writer of profound courage who spoke truth to power. Coates is a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power.”
Like Baldwin in the early 1960s, Coates does seem to be playing the same part in the middle 2010s: a “spokesman” for Black people that White American liberals will read.
Also like Baldwin, Coates sees the same roadblock to ending racism in the US: the need for Whites to preserve a (false) sense of innocence. But where Baldwin advised his nephew to help Whites, Coates tells his son not to waste his time.
Reparations is what Coates says will end racism. Not only will it help to end the huge difference in wealth between Blacks and Whites, but it will also require Whites to give up their false innocence, the main thing keeping racism in place. Deep down most Whites know they should give reparations, but they are far from admitting that to themselves.
That does not mean Black people should give up. Even if it takes a hundred years, Blacks should keep pushing for reparations.
When he was a boy, his father took him to prisons. His father was a Black Panther, working to get other Black Panthers out of prison. One of them was Eddie Conway. To Coates it seemed kind of pointless, but his father did not give up. In 2014, after 44 years, Conway walked free.
His father worked at Howard University at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. It was a library that gathered books from all over the world that were written by or about Black people. Growing up, Coates’s home was filled with such books. He became a huge reader.
His mother taught him to write and to always question. He was not much good at school and it took him 15 years after he dropped out of Howard University before he could make a living at it, but he never stopped questioning and never stopped writing.
His parents also passed onto him their fear. It was limiting but it helped to keep him safe – he grew up in West Baltimore at the height of the Crack Era, the time and place that “The Wire” is based on.
A turning point came when Prince Jones, a friend from Howard University, was gunned down by police. His fear turned to rage.
– Abagond, 2015.
Update (May 25th 2016): Coates’s “Black Panther” has become the top-selling comic book in the US so far this year (as of May 17th) – despite the common (White) belief that there is no market for Black superheroes.
- Between the World and Me
- The Case for Reparations
- Posts featuring Coates:
- James Baldwin
- Toni Morrison
- The Wire
- White innocence