Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 30, 1975. His father, William Paul Coates, was a former member of the Black Panther Party. The younger Coates explains the derivation and meaning of his name as follows: “[F]or the record, Ta-Nehisi (pronounced Tah-Nuh-Hah-See) is an Egyptian name for ancient Nubia. I came up in a time when African/Arabic names were just becoming popular among black parents…. My Dad had to be different, though. Couldn’t just give me a run of the mill African name. I had to be a nation.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates studied journalism at Howard University for five years but failed both British and American Literature, and thus never graduated. Nonetheless, he was appointed as a visiting professor at MIT, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, where he complained about his disadvantages in “racist” America because of his skin color. He was also hired to write for several prestigious publications between the late 1990s and 2007, when he worked variously for the The Washington City Paper, The Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice, and Time. Moreover, he has been a guest columnist for The Washington Post, the Washington Monthly, O Magazine, and The New York Times (which once offered Coates a job as a regular columnist, only to have him turn it down).
Coates is an anti-American racist in the vein of his idols Jeremiah Wright and the late Malcolm X. In Between the World and Me, his most celebrated book—one which earned him a MacArthur Foundation “genius award”—he writes: “’White America’ is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it, ‘white people’ would cease to exist for want of reasons.”
Raised with racist attitudes toward white people from an early age, Coates found a pretext for his racial malice in a September 2000 incident when his friend and former schoolmate, a young man named Prince Jones, was wrongfully shot and killed by a white undercover policeman in Maryland. Jones’s death, says Coates, “took me from fear to a rage … and will likely leave me on fire for the rest of my days.”
On the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that occurred a year after Jones’s death, Coates, stoned on marijuana, felt (by his own account) no emotion whatsoever as he stood on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment building and watched the World Trade Center collapse in the distance—largely because he believed that his own racist homeland was getting a dose of what it richly deserved. When he subsequently saw video clips of police and firefighters—whom he viewed as symbols of racist American institutions—trying to save civilians amid the ruins of the Twin Towers, Coates felt only contempt for those rescuers: “They were not human to me,” he recalls. “Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could—with no justification—shatter my body.”
Coates initially gained wide public acclaim in 2008 when he wrote his first article for The Atlantic, titled “This Is How We Lost to the White Man.” In that piece, he explored entertainer Bill Cosby’s controversial criticisms of black male criminality, black fathers who had abandoned their children, and the violent lyrics of gangsta rap. Coates likened Cosby’s perspective to the self-help black conservatism that Booker T. Washington had espoused a century earlier. Soon after Coates’s article appeared, The Atlantic hired him to write a regular blog column. Today he is a national correspondent for the same publication, writing about culture, politics, and social issues—with a particular emphasis on race.
In 2008 Coates published his first book, a memoir titled The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. In it, the author reflects upon his relationship with his father, the street crime that surrounded him throughout his youth, the challenges he faced as a student in Baltimore-area schools, and his eventual enrollment in Howard University.
In 2012 Coates drew much attention for his article “Fear of a Black President,” which asserted that “part of [Barack] Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites,” and to downplay his own blackness in order to mollify an “infantile” country that feels threatened by any black man who fails to “talk in dulcet tones” at all times.
In June 2014 Coates wrote what became perhaps his most famous article, “The Case for Reparations,” which claims that “America begins in black plunder and white democracy,” and that the entire remainder of U.S. history has been little more than an ugly continuation of that sinful genesis. While reparations payments to contemporary blacks would be, by Coates’s calculus, insufficient to truly settle the historical score, they would at least serve as a statement acknowledging that “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences” is “the price we must pay” to address the fact that “American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution.”
In a subsequent article that same year, titled “Acting French,” Coates recalled: “Like many black children in this country, I did not have a culture of scholastic high achievement around me. There were very few adults around me who’d been great students and were subsequently rewarded for their studiousness…. I mostly thought of school as a place one goes so as not to be eventually killed, drugged, or jailed.” Moreover, Coates deemed it futile to “urge young black children toward education so that they may be respectable or impress the ‘right people,’” because the latter—whose minds had been poisoned by “a country rooted in white supremacy”—would inevitably “remain unimpressed.” “For most of American history,” Coates said in the same piece, “it has been national policy to plunder the capital accumulated by black people—social or otherwise. It began with the prohibition against reading, proceeded to separate and wholly unequal schools, and continues to this very day in our tacit acceptance of segregation….”
In 2015 Coates published Between the World and Me, which became a #1 bestseller, captured the National Book Award for Nonfiction, earned the author a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and garnered nearly universal praise from the political left. Written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son, Samori, the book articulates a father’s worries about the dangers his boy will inevitably face as a black male growing up in America. Telling his son that “you have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels,” Coates urges Samori to live boldly and defiantly rather than “constrict yourself to make other people comfortable” in a nation where blacks always have “the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket.” In his 2015 book as well:
As noted earlier, Coates has been able to secure multiple journalism jobs despite having dropped out of college. Even more unusual is the fact that in 2012-13 he was the MLK Visiting Scholar for writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—virtually unheard of for someone without a PhD, let alone no bachelor’s degree. Moreover, in the fall of 2014 Coates joined the City University of New York as its Journalist-in-Residence.
And among the numerous professional honors and awards Coates has received are the following:
In light of the long list of job offers, professional honors, and monetary rewards Coates has received in exchange for his work as an agent of racial discord, conservative author and activist David Horowitz has described him as “America’s most pampered racist.” In a similar vein, author and columnist Daniel Greenfield characterizes Coates as “an absurdly privileged second-generation radical stuck on self-pity, touring European capitals while whining about racism, responding to white liberal adulation with fresh reserves of victimhood…. He’s a success story whose topic is his own oppression…. The more the media panders to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the more he claims to be the victim.”
“White supremacy is Coates’ religion. It causes all things and explains all things as Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to peddle the shopworn Afrocentric ideas he grew up with to a modern audience. White people represent the omnipotent evil that Ta-Nehisi Coates needs in order to pretend to be an oppressed man engaged in a struggle while marketing that same struggle to the evil white people….
“The world of Between the World and Me is a cramped place in which white people are forever spindling, exploiting and mutilating black bodies … White people have oppressed Ta-Nehisi Coates in every literal and metaphorical sense possible, before moving on to oppressing his son and his descendants after him until the sun finally explodes and the earth dies. White evil is a remorseless historical force that has taken everything from black people while giving them nothing except visiting professorships at MIT.
“Between the World and Me is bad poetry. It’s a racist screed that masks its hatred in self-pity. Its strained attempts at lyricism are meant to cloud and confuse the underlying toxic ideas….
“Ta-Nehisi Coates is always on the verge of being shot by a police officer. Any police officer. When he isn’t sipping lattes at Starbucks while churning out new memoirs about his oppression, he is always one second away from having his ‘black body’ shattered by a random passing police officer or firefighter. This pretense of vulnerability is just bigotry. If a white person had written a memoir in which even minor encounters with black people instilled in him a sense of panic and hatred, the same critics praising Coates would be calling him out as a racist. But it’s a testimony to Coates’ black privilege that the same paranoid racist screed turned inside out is instead described as ‘passionate’ and ‘moving.’”
In February 2016, Coates announced that he was supporting Senator Bernie Sanders‘s campaign for U.S. President. It was “awesome,” said Coates, that “an avowed socialist” like Sanders was seriously “contending for the Democratic Party nomination.”
In a June 2019 interview with The New Yorker, Coates revisited the theme of reparations. Among his remarks were the following:
“The case I make for reparations is, virtually every institution with some degree of history in America, be it public, be it private, has a history of extracting wealth and resources out of the African-American community. I think what has often been missing—this is what I was trying to make the point of in 2014—that behind all of that oppression was actually theft. In other words, this is not just mean. This is not just maltreatment. This is the theft of resources out of that community. That theft of resources continued well into the period of, I would make the argument, around the time of the Fair Housing Act.”
That same month, Coates testified at a House of Representatives hearing on H.R. 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to study the issue of reparations. Among his remarks were the following:
“Yesterday, when asked about reparations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a familiar reply: America should not be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago, since none of us currently alive are responsible. This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance, that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations. But well into this century, the United States was still paying out pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years, despite no one being alive who signed those treaties. Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach…. We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance. It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery….
“Enslavement reigned for 250 years on these shores. When it ended, this country could have extended its hallowed principles—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to all, regardless of color. But America had other principles in mind. And so for a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell…. [W]hile emancipation dead-bolted the door against the bandits of America, Jim Crow wedged the windows wide open….
“The typical black family in this country has one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family. Black women die in childbirth at four times the rate of white women. And there is, of course, the shame of this land of the free boasting the largest prison population on the planet, of which the descendants of the enslaved make up the largest share. The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits….”
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