October 15, 2015

Highlights: Kojo Nnamdi In Conversation With Ta-Nehisi Coates

Kojo Nnamdi (left) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (right) at WAMU's studio.

Kojo Nnamdi (left) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (right) at WAMU's studio.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is the national correspondent at The Atlantic where he writes about social issues and politics. He was recently awarded a MacArthur grant to further pursue his reporting. Coates sat down with Kojo Nnamdi for an hour to discuss everything from how the death of a college friend transformed his perceptions of justice to why he why he was apathetic in the wake of September 11th. Listen to highlights below and check out the full conversation.

On How History Is Made

“…If you think about it like a water glass –and people are just slowly dropping drops of water into the glass over– and there appears to be no change. And then at some point, the glass tips over. Most of human history is dropping water into the glass. Most of our struggle in the history of this country is just dropping water into the glass. And only a few are actually around to see the glass tip.”

On Howard University And The Diversity Of Black Identity

“I had no conception of how diverse the African American experience was –diverse and yet united around one particular thing. It was incredible. … It just made me appreciate my own beauty and really, the beauty of the black experience. And it’s hard to do that when you’re constantly under the stress of the politics. And you think of yourself strictly in terms of what year was the Voting Rights Bill passed, when did the Emancipation happen, and it’s hard to just pause for a second and just look and see this thing that has flowered under all this pressure, this world that we really made. It’s such a gorgeous, beautiful world.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates On People’s Trouble Pronouncing His Name And ‘Kojo Nnamdi’

“…It’s not that hard. You can pronounce ‘Svetlana,’ you can get this.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates On How He Overcame Apathy After September 11

“The New York Times ran a piece about two years or so later. They ran biographies on a lot of the firefighters who had gone down to the World Trade Center and the conditions by which they ended up losing their lives. And that was the first time, about 2004, 2005, that I really felt something. What I came to: no matter what you feel politically, no matter how much anger you have over what happened to your friends, every life is precious. Life is life. Period. …Even when other folks are doing wrong, you gotta stand in that.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates Responds To Criticism That He “Inflames Racism”

Richard from College Park, Md: “I think Mr. Coates has been inflaming racism on both sides and really getting us away from the idea that I grew up with, which was colorblindness…”

Ta-Nehisi: … “Reparations isn’t a claim against white people, it’s a claim against society –like reparations for Japanese Americans wasn’t a claim against people who weren’t Japanese Americans, it was a claim against society. … It’s not based on skin color, it’s based on the injury. … Outlawing discrimination right now –saying people can’t discriminate right now– doesn’t give you anything for discrimination that happened in the past. And you’re alive right now.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates On Race, Justice And Finding A Voice In Local D.C. – The Kojo Nnamdi Show


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