On February 18, 2015 at 7 p.m. in Graham Chapel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic and well-known author, spoke on the subject of racism in the United States as part of the Washington University Political Review Lecture.
Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. Coates’ article “The Case for Reparations,” featured on the cover of the magazine’s June 2014 issue, presented a case about the cumulative effect of a long history of discrimination against blacks in the United States.
The lengthy article is introduced by a short blurb that expresses Coates’ message: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
In a Graham Chapel packed with students and community members, Coates began his speech by acknowledging the impact of recent events, including the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; the death of Eric Garner near Staten Island, N.Y.; and the beating of Marlene Pinnock in Santa Monica, Calif., on his writing, and he stressed the current state of American racism and its impact on his work.
I can predict that some time next year, or this year, later this year when my book comes out, I will have somebody else to talk about, I guarantee it, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that and the year after that. As long as the root mathematics are the same, anything I write about the force and the tragedy of white supremacy and racism in this country will always be timely.
– Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates proceeded to read selections from his upcoming book, due to be released later this year. In his selected readings, he spoke about his struggles to explain to his son the state of the country with regards to racism. Coates also discussed the personal, emotional impact of the death of his close friend, Prince Jones, who attended Howard University with him and was killed by Prince George’s County police officers near Washington, D.C.
After his main presentation, Coates turned to a lengthy Q&A session, where he was asked questions on topics ranging from integration to a desire to learn more about racism. Toward the end of the night, Coates offered advice to the students present.
“My advice is, first of all, to get a foreign language because what that does is it expands the world…my second piece of advice is to find something you love, and to aggressively pursue it,” he said.
As Coates thanked the audience and left the stage, he received a standing ovation from the audience.