This year’s top The Root 100 honoree reflects on his groundbreaking article, “The Case for Reparations,” and his belief that African Americans have accomplished much, despite overwhelming obstacles.
This year we selected writer Ta-Nehisi Coates as the top honoree on The Root 100, our annual list of influential and high-achieving African Americans. It was June when The Atlantic published his widely read and highly acclaimed cover article, “The Case for Reparations,” which “lays bare a compelling argument for the pecuniary redress of Africans brought to this country in chains and continually terrorized—socially, politically and economically.”
Coates sat down with The Root’s managing editor, Lyne Pitts, to talk about the impact of his record-shattering article, which, he says, “way outdistanced my expectations.”
The Root: You called this article “The Case for Reparations.” So obviously you were making that case to someone. Who was it written for?
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Well, this is tough to say, because I don’t want this to come off the wrong way. In general, when I write something like that, I’m writing for black people. But that shouldn’t mean that I don’t want other people to read it, or I don’t expect other people to read it.
But I think for those of us who find ourselves in majority-white spaces, we feel this need to slow things down and dumb things down and speak to people in a certain way. And I just try to write as though I were in a room full of African Americans. I don’t want to cut anything back.
And I think in the long run that that actually shows more respect for my white readers. Because the expectation is that they’re gonna be able to follow me, and that it’ll be OK, if I speak in my natural way or write as I naturally would, as though I were explaining it to people within my community. And those who are outside of my community will actually understand and can understand. And I truly, truly believe that.
TR: What did you want African Americans to know that we didn’t know?
TC: That our condition is not a mistake. That we don’t need to run around pretending, as though there’s some great mystery going on—it’s not. If an alien came to planet Earth and looked at the socioeconomic statistics for African Americans and then measured that against the history and the policies of this country, there would really be no surprises about who we are and where we are. And I think that’s important, because there are things that are not within our control in this country.
Source: The Root