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Ta-Nehisi Coates (born September 30, 1975) is a senior editor for The Atlantic and a memoirist. He often writes about African-American history, gaming, and current events.
- sorted chronologically
- I'm looking to avoid a subtly demeaning subtext which holds that reading, say, Jamaica Kincaid is something you should do--like flossing or taxes or laundry. I don't want to speak for women writers, but I recoil at the idea of someone reading my book because they really should read a black author or two. I don't want to be an icebreaker at your corporation's Kwanzaa gathering.
- Mr. [Clyde] Ross at that time, like most African Americans around the country, was unable to secure a loan, due to policies around redlining and deciding, you know, who deserved the loans and who doesn’t. There was a broad, broad consensus that African Americans, for no other reason besides blanket racism, could not be responsible homeowners.
- When people wanted to criticize the Affordable Care Act they would often say “This is reparations. This is reparations.” Liberals [were often saying (somewhat indistinct)] “No, no, no. This isn’t for black people. This will benefit everybody.” In a just world we would say “Yes. This does disproportionately benefit black people and that’s a very, very good thing because for most of our history we have disproportionately injured black people and our policy should be structured in such a way that take that into account.
- You actually can’t understand American history without understanding slavery.
- Ibid. (May 30, 2014) Part 2, Democracy Now!
- [James Baldwin is] probably the biggest influence on me from a literary perspective.
- "'Between the World and Me': Ta-Nehisi Coates Extended Interview on Being Black in America" (July 22, 2015) Democracy Now!
- Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.
- "The Case for Reparations" (June, 2014) The Atlantic
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir (2008)
- There was the normal high that comes from the hormones of youth, that fresh sense of being unchained. But also there was the omnipresent feeling that It could go down. In those moments—which back then were all of our moments—your neurology was always code red.
- p. 34.
- I was young and could not see the weaponry my ancestors had left for me, the shield in the tall brown grass, the ax lying right next to the tree.
- p. 41.
- My father was haunted. He was bad at conjuring small talk, he watched very little TV, because once Conscious, every commercial, every program must be strip-mined for its deeper meaning, until it lays bare its role in this sinister American plot.
- p. 54.
- In Richard Wright, Dad found a literature of himself. He'd read Manchild in the Promised Land and Another Country, but from Wright he learned that there was an entire shadow canon, a tradition of writers who grabbed the pen, not out of leisure but to break the chain.
- p. 72.
- That was how I came to understand, how I came to know why all these brothers wrote and talked so big. Even the Knowledged feared the streets. But the rhyme pad was a spell book—it summoned asphalt elementals, elder gods, and weeping ancestors, all of whom had your back. That summer, I knew what Fruitie was trying to say, that when under the aegis of hip-hop, you never lived alone, you never walked alone.
- p. 111.
- Our folks understood that there was a war upon us and that school was a weapon that outdid any Glock. Yet the whole process—with its equally spaced desks, precisely timed periods and lectures, with its standardized pencils and tests—felt unnatural to me. But much as I hated their terms, having been impressed into them, I hated more the failing. So I was left with a great unconscious sadness, an emptiness which, even when I was alone, I was not fully aware. But it worked on me like an invisible weight, altered my laughter, posture, my approach to girls. Fuck what you have heard or what you have seen in your son. He may lie about homework and laugh when the teacher calls home. He may curse his teacher, propose arson for the whole public system. But inside is the same sense that was in me. None of us ever want to fail. None of us want to be unworthy, to not measure up.
- p. 169-170.
- Nowadays, I cut on the tube and see the dumbfounded looks, when over some minor violation of name and respect, a black boy is found leaking on the street. The anchors shake their heads. The activists give their stupid speeches, praising mythical days when all disputes were handled down at Ray's Gym. Politicians step up to the mic, claim the young have gone mad, their brains infected, and turned superpredator. Fuck you all who've ever spoken so foolishly, who've opened your mouths like we don't know what this is. We have read the books you own, the scorecards you keep—done the math and emerged prophetic. We know how we will die—with cousins in double murder suicides, in wars that are mere theory to you, convalescing in hospitals, slowly choked out by angina and cholesterol. We are the walking lowest rung, and all that stands between us and beast, between us and the local zoo, is respect, the respect you take as natural as sugar and shit. We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us.
- p. 177.
- I built djembes not by parental edict, not under threat, but because of my own native yearning. This was a giant step toward seeing more. Across the country our elders were battling the shades that shrank our minds and abbreviated our world. We thought the corner was cool, but more than that we deeply believed that we could do no better, that this tiny parcel was all we deserved in this world of sin.
- p. 192.
- [In the mid-90s] The older gods were falling off. EPMD were breaking. Chuck and Flav had taken us as far as they could, and already the new voices were being hijacked by the death cults. Brothers who last week were shouting out Malcolm were flipped into studio gangsters, killing every nigger in sight.
- p. 199.
Between the World and Me (2015)
- The elevation of the belief in being white was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.
- p. 8.
- Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it. But this banality of violence can never excuse America, because ... America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist.
- p. 8.
- One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen's claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.
- p. 8.
- Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. ... The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.
- p. 9.
- Any claim to ourselves, to the hands that secured us, the spine that braced us, and the head that directed us, was contestable.
- p. 37.
- I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.
- p. 146.
- Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.
- p. 150.
"The First White President" (October 2017)
- It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump's predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
- Any empirical evaluation of the relationship between Trump and the white working class would reveal that one adjective in that phrase is doing more work than the other. In 2016, Trump enjoyed majority or plurality support among every economic branch of whites. It is true that his strongest support among whites came from those making $50,000 to $99,999. This would be something more than working-class in many nonwhite neighborhoods, but even if one accepts that branch as the working class, the difference between how various groups in this income bracket voted is revealing. Sixty-one percent of whites in this "working class" supported Trump. Only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks did. Indeed, the plurality of all voters making less than $100,000 and the majority making less than $50,000 voted for the Democratic candidate. So when Packer laments [in the New Yorker] the fact that "Democrats can no longer really claim to be the party of working people—not white ones, anyway," he commits a kind of category error. The real problem is that Democrats aren't the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.
- Obama himself, underestimating Trump and thus underestimating the power of whiteness, believed the Republican nominee too objectionable to actually win. In this Obama was, tragically, wrong. And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase "grab 'em by the pussy" into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, "If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president."