Barack Obama was making history as the country’s first
black president, Ta-Nehisi Coates was becoming one of
the premier voices in the country’s conversation about
essays in The Atlantic, where he is a national
correspondent, have been personal, historical,
intelligent, angry — and full of hard truths that make
white people squirm in their seats.
is why Coates’ words are so important. They teach
people. They awaken them. Sentence by sentence, they are
capable of closing the racial divide.
is that racism, too? For a white person to look to
someone of color for guidance on issues of race and
wouldn’t go that far," said Coates, who has a new
book, "We Were Eight Years in Power"
might be reasons someone doesn’t want to take on that
role," he said of asking those who have been
discriminated against to help others understand.
"But I don’t think the request is another form of
the #MeToo movement that has exposed sexual harassment
and assault against women, he said.
have had … what feels like a parade of powerful men
exposed for all the various ways they try to exploit
their power," he said. "Sexual access to women’s
bodies. Rape. Assault.
am one who always thought of myself as relatively aware
of sexual assault," Coates continued. "But
seeing this come out is different. And I have found
myself in a situation that is not so dissimilar of white
readers of my work: ‘I didn’t know it was this bad.’
find myself in the position of a well-intentioned man.
It’s difficult. And it’s always difficult if you’re
not part of the community, but part of the community
that perpetrates the actual action."
new book is a collection of 16 essays written between
2008 and 2016. Half of them were written for The
Atlantic and the rest were written specifically for the
is a follow-up to "Between the World and Me,"
for which Coates won the 2015 National Book Award for
Nonfiction, and for which he was a finalist for The
Pulitzer Prize. The book spent more than a year on The
New York Times best-seller list and has sold more than a
million copies in print.
new book includes essays like "Fear of a Black
President" and "The Case for
Reparations," but also an epilogue that is
"The First White President," a widely shared
piece that ran in the October issue of The Atlantic.
essays examine Barack Obama’s time as America’s
first black president through various prisms: Race,
political power, historical context and impact on people
like Coates, who tells his own story — and the country’s.
are no clean victories for black people, nor, perhaps,
for any people," Coates writes in "My
President Was Black."
presidency of Barack Obama is no different. One can now
say that an African-American individual can rise to the
same level as a white individual, and yet also say that
the number of black individuals who actually qualify for
that status will be small. One thinks of Serena
Williams, whose dominance and stunning achievements can’t,
in and of themselves, ensure equal access to tennis
facilities for young black girls. The gate is open and
yet so very far away."
essays begin with Coates as a young writer in the
unemployment office in Harlem and end with him sitting
in The Oval Office, interviewing the outgoing president.
between, he became a necessary voice in the national
conversation about race, about what Obama’s two terms
meant — and how they ended with the election of
President Donald Trump, a white man with no political
wonder if his election was — for lack of a better term
— an overcorrection to an era where we saw the first
black president, a woman as a major political-party
nominee, same-sex marriage …
are things about the world that are changing and there
is a coterie of Americans who don’t want it to change,
and want the America of the ‘50s back. It sounds like
Andy Griffith, but it means back-alley abortions and
gays in the closet.
want their old world back," he said. "That’s
the basic clash."
writes with outrage, joy and resignation.
is a huge part of it," Coates said. "I try to
write about things I am very moved by. If you write too
much, people become dead to it, so I try to pick my
things are made for the dinner table or to talk about
with your wife over coffee."
42 and the father of a 17-year-old son, lives in New
York City. His wife, Kenyatta Matthews, is in medical
school in Washington, D.C.
do what we have got to do to see each other," he
is also working on a three-book series of "Black
Panther" graphic novels.
is my joy," he said of writing — and reading —
just returned from Europe, where he had brief, but
potent exchanges with cabdrivers about the state of
just look at you and say, ‘Trump,’?" he said.
"I say, ‘I don’t know. Don’t blame me.’?"
can hear the weariness in his voice. A mix of jet lag,
missing his family, book-tour tiredness and pressure to
explain so much to so many people.
that his joy, as well? The crowds? The questions? The
he said with a quiet laugh. "I detest it. I am
happy that people want to read what I write, but … I
don’t know. I probably don’t like a lot of
appreciate the privilege," he added quickly.
"I am happy that folks are reading. As much as
anything, it’s an attempt to keep myself