Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Ask Ta-Nehisi Anything
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Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about race relations, Donald Trump, comic books, feminism, the bygone era of blogging, and more. The questions and answers were compiled and lightly edited from the “Ask Me Anything” he did with a group of Atlantic readers called TAD (created by members of TNC’s old commenting community, the Horde). The AMA’s section on comic books and feminism is located within his discussion thread on Black Panther, while the section on blogging is within the Horde thread. The remaining sections are below.

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(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies. The speech above was delivered the day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.)

With the election and current political climate, there’s a lot of very understandable gloom and trepidation right now. But is there anything happening in America now that makes you feel optimistic about our future as a society? Any bright spots you would like to see more focus on and draw peoples’ attention to?

I don’t know. I don’t tend to look for reasons for optimism or pessimism. I think human societies tend to be problematic. And we are just conforming to the rule.

Trump is very aggressively attacking the credibility of the media. How can the media and journalists best respond to his tactics?

Not sure they can. Dunno if this is really up to them. Feels like something larger happening. Obviously you can do your job well. But I don’t think, say, The New York Times doing its job well is going to garner them cred among the people who believe Trump is a credible press critic.

Do you believe in the meme that it was liberal intolerance for conservative views that generated the backlash personified by Trump? Or the related meme that liberals have ignored white heartland people?

Nah. Trump was polling well back in 2012 in GOP primaries.

How do you think protest movements are gonna evolve in the next few years to counter the alt-right direction that national politics have taken?

No idea. But they need to take appropriate measures against the very real possibility of government surveillance and harassment. We’ve done it before. Like, in the life-times of many Americans. No real reason to think it could not happen again.

What lessons can today’s protest movements take from the civil rights movement, Black Panthers, etc.?

(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies. In the video above, he discusses issues surrounding his cover story, “My President Was Black.”)

After reading you for the last 5+ years or so, and becoming more aware of the racial strains that permeate the U.S. on so very many levels, and realizing that you are so much more aware of these things than I am (from experience and study), I wonder if you despair of Americans ever living together in truly racially peaceful and tranquil society, rather than being riven by racial division, strife, and conflict? Is a real peace—with something approaching fairness and justice—ever going to be on offer in America in your view?

Nah. I don’t despair. The world is imperfect. Long view of history shows evil triumphing more often than we’d like to admit. That’s just how it is. I don’t despair too much about dying either. It’s just a fact of being human.

How do you try and communicate that insight to children?

I talk to them, just like I’m talking here. I’ve never tried to hide anything.

As a black mother and an advocate for racial equality, I am concerned about your totality of belief that black people will never gain true equality in America. Don’t you think you should use your position in the media to forge alliances and proffer the reality that there are many blacks and whites that seamlessly bridge the gap between the races?

Nah. I’m a writer. My job is to speak what that which I think is true. If that bridges the gap, that’s good. If it doesn’t, that’s too bad.

As a Gen-X pundit of repute, what’s the most frustrating gap you see between Boomer and Millennial (and younger, now) activism? Is there something you’d wish both could grasp, but somehow they cannot?

(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies.)

I’ve been listening to Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound album on repeat for a couple days now and it blew my mind when I looked at the credits and realized it was you at talking at the end of “Love Ya.” How did that even happen?

They asked to sample. I said, sure. It’s a cool album.

What music have you been grooving to recently?

Rihanna. Frank Ocean. Kilo Kish. Old Jay-Z.

What sort of history books, if any, are you reading these days? I loved your discussion of Bloodlands.

Very slowly making my way through Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction.

Have you been following Jamelle Bouie’s reading of it at Slate?

Nah. Gotta stay in my own head.

I know you’re not much of a football fan these days, but I was wondering if you have any thoughts on (what seems to be) the steadily growing pushback against taxpayer-subsidized stadiums in major cities around the country (including, as of this week, San Diego). Will we see an end to these sorts of deals anytime soon? Should we?

I actually am back watching. Got pulled back in. Was looking for some part of me that was lost. More on that soon.

How has your living in France modified your point of view about race and culture, or has it?

Left me thinking a lot more about the international implications of the twin legacies of colonialism and enslavement. I’m not prepared to say anything definitive. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Things like looking at the reaction of white Southerners to the Civil War, and the reaction of les pieds noirs to the Algerian War.

Just questions right now, honestly. Nothing certain.

How’s your French, at this point? Have you tried it out shouting at an American tourist or two?

Ça avance. Mais la langues étranger sont toujours difficile. Particularmente pour les adults. J'ai une prof privée. Nous rencontrons une fois ou deux fois chaque semaine. Donc, je vais continuer. J'adore français.

Désolé pour mes faults.

“Les langues”! C’est pluriel. Bonne continuation!

Salut!