Ta-Nehisi Coates wins a 2015 MacArthur Genius award

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Well-deserved, Mr. Coates. Congrats!

If you missed this the first time around, his ‘The case for Reparations’ is an eye-opener.


For many, yes, and I applaud the link, but it wasn’t an eye-opener for me. It seems written for those who need their eyes opened, yes, but does it really go all that far?

Not all are going along with the applause of the latest black writer to be so mightily embraced by white audiences. That in itself should give pause, no? I imagine, or hope, that Coates feels a twinge of something wrong in all the recent accolades.

Polls indicate that a majority of African Americans do favor reparations. But in the absence of a reparations movement with discussions of plans and strategies against which to measure progress and performance, reparations is only a brand, available for scoundrels to hide behind whenever their faces need blackwashing, and their ghetto passes need re-stamping. Today it’s Mr. Coates. Tomorrow? Well…


The history covered in Mr. Coates’s essay isn’t known to many non-Americans, nor to white Americans. Likewise, I don’t expect someone from California to understand the history of and reasons for the Oka Crisis, what happened to the Acadians in 1755, or what really caused the Irish famine. People are the product of what they see, hear, touch.

I’m not an American, nor am I black, nor do I have any African American friends, so I was only vaguely aware of just how much African Americans had been systematically fucked over and still are, right up to this day. I’d wager a dollar or two, that someone from Cameroon wouldn’t be aware of that history.

Mr. Coates’s essay moved me from having no particular opinion about reparations, to being strongly in favour of these. I know that this is also the case for a number of friends who have also read the essay. Mr. Coates’s writing has moved the universe a few millimeters in the right direction.

For this, he deserves the money. Even if it came from white people.

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Hell yeah

Mr. Coates is a terrific writer, who expresses important ideas, even if they make others (including me) uncomfortable at times.

All the more reason for him to be rewarded in this way.

Long may he keep thinking and writing, and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest the crotches of his critics.

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Mr Coates demands reparations, establishment gives him half a mil, wipes hands on pants.

There’s a lot of money to be made by telling guilty white liberals they should do something about a problem they’re not actually willing to do anything about. They are willing to pay money, though, but mostly so they can pat themselves on the back for being more aware than other white people.

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I’m glad I checked - I thought this was given out in the name of Dugout Doug!

Correction, $625,000 these days.

Is that what Coates does? That’s not my reading of his work.


I don’t believe that’s the purpose of the MacArthur Genius award, either.

I’m not talking about what Coates does, as much as what his readers do – and don’t do. There’s always room for one or two Wise Black People in the pantheon (such as it is) of American public intellectuals. Their appointed job is always to speak to the black condition and, basically, for black people. I remember seeing this ad some years back, in amongst a bunch of other pages with odd pairings, all but this one containing two white people. The white people were all put together in order to discuss this or that interest or set of experiences – never, of course, the “white American experience,” unlike these two, the only two black people, put together specifically to “discuss the African American experience.” (click for expandable image)

Coates is famous because he so eloquently and cogently and even urgently discusses “the [seemingly singular] African American experience.” Putting aside the troublesome fact that famous white people (as far as I know) never get asked to discuss “the European American experience,” who knows of anything Coates has written on anything else? How well would a black journalist of his tremendous skill be known if he or she focused on anything but “the black experience”?

In other words, who limits him to writing about blackness? Maybe he always wanted to write about that (and given who his dad is, that wouldn’t be surprising!), but I’m not talking about him and what he wants to write about; I don’t begrudge him that. I’m talking about the white journalistic and literary and major-prize-giving establishment, and what IT sees him as, and applauds him for doing. And about what most white readers get out of his work – as I said, a chance to sympathize for a bit, and to pat themselves on the back for having done so, and for having gained some knowledge and awareness. But very few white readers buy his books or give him awards in search of real motivation to actually do anything that’s going to change any black lives.

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I also get the sense in his work that he himself feels a sense of urgency in the issues he discusses in his work. I’m sure having a teenage son has a lot to do with that. I can relate to that, as issues of race and gender in America seem more critical to me now as a parent of a (white) teenaged girl. I think he’d be doing this, even if white liberals like me weren’t all like this - and that probably comes from his dad and from attending Howard and from his own experiences:

I’ve read his blog often, and he often discusses stuff not related to race - he had a few posts a couple of years back on the NFL and head injuries. He also had a long discussion on his learning French (and spending time in France as an American). And he likes to talk music, too, which is awesome. Occasionally he posts on geek culture, which I’d love to see him write more on - not just from a black perspective, but just from the perspective of someone who loves the culture for what it is.

But very few white readers buy his books or give him awards in search of real motivation to actually do anything that's going to change any black lives.

Sadly, you’re on point here. People want to feel like they are doing something, even if they are not actually doing anything.

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I agree with your general points.

What would you expect most white readers to get out of his work if they weren’t getting “a chance to sympathize for a bit, and to pat themselves on the back for having done so, and for having gained some knowledge and awareness”? I mean, yes, that can be a bit patronizing but I’ve recommended his books to people for the very reason that most of my friends are white and they’ve probably not read a black author outside of school. If they don’t read works like his, the chances are that many of them will never encounter the kinds of things he says (and these same folks probably have few or no black friends, especially ones that want to discuss racial issues with them).

What would you rather be done? We aren’t going to have two white Americans talk about the “European American” experience because the overculture IS the European American experience written large and dominating. It’s the water most of us swim in.

I was going to say that much of what I’ve read by him has been geek stuff because he’s “one of us.” That’s part of why I am excited that he gets to write Black Panther, even though that, itself, is probably because he’s black as well as a geek.

The question is what would people reasonably expect, given the current culture and politics, most White Americans to do instead? What is reading his work blocking them from doing?

I’d say having a black writer tell me, from his or her point of view, of all of the shit he or she has to deal with in life is likely to be an eye opening experience for many if not most white Americans.

Yes, they should let him at the overall Avengers Universe, Captain America, or Spiderman… I know he’s an X-Men fan, so I’d love to see him write an arc there.