Ta-Nehisi Coates Quotes

  1. It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true – his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.
  2. I was about 13 or 14 when I heard Malcolm X’s speech ‘Message to the Grass Roots.’
  3. For me, my writing benefits from my experience.
  4. White racial grievance enjoys automatic credibility, and even when disproven, it is never disqualifying of its bearers.
  5. In comics, you have to imagine what happens. I really loved it; I loved collecting. I loved following the adventures and figuring out what was going to happen next. I was a huge X-Men fan; I was a huge Spider-Man fan, and, to large degree, I remain one. It’s literature for me; it’s art.
  6. I am always surprised people are surprised that people haven’t read things.
  7. The lives of African-Americans in this country are characterized by violence for most of our history. Much of that violence, at least to some extent, you know, done by the very state that’s supposed to protect them.
  8. When I see the Confederate flag, I see the attempt to raise an empire in slavery. It really, really is that simple. I don’t understand how anybody with any sort of education on the Civil War can see anything else.
  9. The symbolic power of Barack Obama’s presidency – that whiteness was no longer strong enough to prevent peons taking up residence in the castle – assaulted the most deeply rooted notions of white supremacy and instilled fear in its adherents and beneficiaries.
  10. I think a lot about the private emotions of black people – what we feel and yet is rarely publicly expressed.
  11. Comic books have a long, fraught history with sexism.
  12. In the 1930s and the 1940s, we set up the FHA. We set up the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. We set up specific bureaus to make our communities look the way they look.
  13. When people think about reparations, they immediately think about people who’ve been dead for 100 years.
  14. American myths have never been colorless.
  15. I think the body is the ultimate thing. The soul and mind are part of the body. I don’t think there is anything outside of that. Your physical self is who you are. Some people feel that that is reductionist, but I don’t think it is. It’s just true.
  16. You can’t make a direct comparison between middle-class African Americans and middle-class white Americans, affluent African Americans and affluent white Americans. The amount of wealth tends to be less.
  17. I think at places like ‘Slate’ or the magazine where I work, there was a really poor record of hiring African-American writers. It was really that simple. And I think with the proliferation of the Internet and Internet media, it has been a little harder to maintain that gatekeeper position.
  18. I write what I write in the way that I write it. I’m not being abstract, you know. I’m talking about something that, you know, is a part of my life.
  19. With George Bush’s policies, I could make an argument for how they affect black people in a negative way. You know what I mean? But I wouldn’t argue that he’s a white supremacist.
  20. When people hear the term ‘political prisoner,’ especially on the Left, it becomes a kind of abstraction. Folks are aware of injustice, and they’re aware that there are folks in prison who are in prison, you know, largely because of their activism.
  21. Abraham Lincoln was killed by the forces of white supremacy.
  22. Germany has spent the decades since World War II in national penance for Nazi crimes. America spent the decades after the Civil War transforming Confederate crimes into virtues. It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. The Confederate flag is enmeshed in the state flag of Mississippi.
  23. Typically, there’s this perspective among writers – and black writers: there’s this idea that there is one person – and maybe beyond writers – among blacks, there is always one person who everyone should go to learn about all things black.
  24. The plunder of black communities is not a bump along the road, but it is, in fact, the road itself that you can’t have in America without enslavement, without Jim Crow, terrorism, everything that came after that.
  25. When you read a comic book, there’s a space between what’s happening on the panel and what you have to literally see in your mind. That’s not true of movies, where you see everything.
  26. For nearly a century and a half, this country deluded itself into thinking that its greatest calamity, the Civil War, had nothing to do with one of its greatest sins, enslavement. It deluded itself in this manner despite available evidence to the contrary.
  27. The two endorsements I’m most proud of come from Isabel Wilkerson and Toni Morrison. The latter is the greatest American fiction writer of our time, and the former is on her way to being the greatest American nonfiction writer of our time.
  28. I haven’t checked, but I highly suspect that chickens evolved from an egg-laying ancestor, which would mean that there were, in fact, eggs before there were chickens. Genius.
  29. The president of the United States is not a king. You know? Barack Obama was elected by the American people.
  30. Eddie Conway is central to my first memories. My parents used to take me to, when it was open, the Baltimore city penitentiary to see Eddie Conway – I was talking to my dad about this recently – from the time I might have been one or two years old. I mean, literally, my first memories are of black men in jail, specifically of Eddie Conway.
  31. If Obama’s enormous symbolic power draws primarily from being the country’s first black president, it also draws from his membership in hip-hop’s foundational generation.
  32. You can oppose reparations all you want, but you got to know the facts. You really, really do.
  33. I don’t attempt to make people uncomfortable; I think that my standards in terms of art and journalism always have necessitated my discomfort.
  34. Well into the 20th century, black people spoke of their flight from Mississippi in much the same manner as their runagate ancestors had.
  35. One of the things we tell ourselves as African-Americans is if we work hard, play by the rules, we do start back a little ways, but if we can be twice as good, somehow we can escape history and heritage and legacy.
  36. 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.
  37. The soul is part of the body. The mind is part of the body. When folks do physical violence to black people, to black bodies in this country, the soul as we construe it is damaged, too – the mind is damaged, too.
  38. I wouldn’t argue that Mitt Romney is a white supremacist.
  39. There are plenty of African-Americans in this country – and I would say this goes right up to the White House – who are not by any means poor, but are very much afflicted by white supremacy.
  40. I feel sorry for people who only know comic books through movies. I really do.
  41. As a writer, I was shaped by a desire to write for black people. That things were not being represented. That was my motivating force. That it has become what it has become is shocking to me. I just wanted to be able to take care of my kids.
  42. I’m the descendant of enslaved black people in this country. You could’ve been born in 1820 if you were black and looked back to your ancestors and saw nothing but slaves all the way back to 1619. Look forward another 50 or 60 years and saw nothing but slaves.
  43. You don’t make a case for reparations thinking, ‘Oh yeah, people are gonna love this.’ I didn’t see that coming.
  44. My dad always associated information with liberation. He was very much in that Malcolm X tradition.
  45. I guess I’d be put in the ID politics camp. But there is really nothing in the world-view of, say, Bernie Sanders I actually disagree with. I’d like a guaranteed income, single-payer health care, a stronger safety net, etc. The problem is the temptation to paper over historically fraught issues to achieve that is tempting.
  46. One of the things that’s really, really present in ‘Between the World and Me’ is, I am in some ways outside of the African-American tradition.
  47. I think ‘Dear White People,’ the show, is a tremendous artistic achievement. It’s always hinting that there is something beyond the pleading and wokeness, something that the show’s more militant characters can’t see.
  48. The casualties in the Civil War amount to more than all other wars – all other American wars combined. More people died in that war than World War II, World War I, Vietnam, etc. And that was a war for white supremacy. It was a war to erect a state in which the basis of it was the enslavement of black people.
  49. If I could have anything – you know, and this is across the board for any presidential candidate – I would have a greater acknowledgment of history in our policy and in our affairs.
  50. It’s hard for me to view Baltimore outside the context of what Baltimore has always been in my mind: a violent place.
  51. Storytellers have the right to answer any question they choose.
  52. Life is always a problem. The fact that I’m on the radio saying that I don’t necessarily see hope does not relieve people, does not relieve my son, does not relieve children, of the responsibility to struggle.
  53. We look at young black kids with a scowl on their face, walking a certain way down the block with their sweatpants dangling, however, with their hoodies on. And folks think that this is a show of power or a show of force. But I know, because I’ve been among those kids, it ultimately is fear.
  54. The relationship between violence and nonviolence in this country is interesting. The fact of the matter is, you know, people do respond to riots. The 1968 Housing Act was in large response to riots that broke out after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. They cited these as an actual inspiration.
  55. There’s no way to understand housing as it exists today without federal policy.
  56. One can say Senator Sanders should have more explicit antiracist policy within his racial justice platform, not just more general stuff, and still cast a vote for Senator Sanders and still feel that Senator Sanders is the best option that we have in the race.
  57. I feel like my job is to look at the world and to report what I see, to write what I see as honestly and directly as I can. I don’t want to cut it or make it easy, but be as direct as I can.
  58. It was mostly through pop culture, through hip-hop, through Dungeons & Dragons and comic books that I acquired much of my vocabulary.
  59. There are African-American families around this country – a large, large number of African-American families – that operate out of complete fear that their kids are going to be taken from them and will do anything to prevent that.
  60. I had no expectations of white people at all.
  61. Breitbart media is named after the same gentleman who basically framed Shirley Sherrod during the Obama administration.
  62. I didn’t start off as a journalist; I started off as a poet. My ambition was to practise poetry. Then I found journalism, but that other voice never fled from me.
  63. Black people are pledging their fealty to the state, and yet they aren’t getting the same return. This is theft. It’s systemized.
  64. I don’t want them to read what I’m writing and say, ‘I think that’s right,’ and agree with me. I want them to read something and then walk away and be haunted by it.
  65. If, to the end of its existence, America harbors white supremacy, I don’t know how remarkable that would be. France has dealt with anti-Semitism since its inception.
  66. I’ve been very, very careful to tell people what I am qualified to talk about and what I’m not qualified to talk about.
  67. Forgiveness is a big part of – especially post-civil rights movement – is a big part of African-American Christianity, and I wasn’t raised within the Christian church; I wasn’t raised within any church.
  68. Every writer dreams of having the ability to hold forth for 8,000 words and pull all these different forms together: history, reportage, journalism. That was all I really wanted, and ‘The Atlantic’ was my first high-profile opportunity.
  69. I’m not familiar particularly with Hillary Clinton’s neighborhood, but I wish people were a little bit more curious about what we call privilege and about why it’s there. Black people in this country have no choice but to be curious. We have to know. I wish folks would do a little bit more investigation.
  70. There’s a kind of optimism specifically within Christianity about the world – about whose side God is on. Well, I didn’t have any of that in my background. I had physicality and chaos.
  71. Kaepernick’s protest has been very successful. I really appreciate the fact that he’s been giving away money to organisations; he pledged to give away a million dollars, and he’s been doing it.
  72. In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.
  73. Superheroes are best imagined in comic books. The union between the written word, the image, and then what your imagination has to do to connect those allows for so much.
  74. Obama’s presence opened a new field for writers, and what began as curiosity about the man himself eventually expanded into curiosity about the community he had so consciously made his home and all the old, fitfully slumbering questions he’d awakened about American identity.
  75. When people who are not black are interested in what I do, frankly, I’m always surprised. I don’t know if it’s my low expectations for white people or what.
  76. You don’t actually have control of the position people want you to be in. If they say, ‘You king of the blacks,’ you’re king of the blacks – whether you like it or not.
  77. I would say as a journalist, I would envision travelling to other countries that have had to reckon with their past and see how they’ve done it: what worked, what didn’t work, finding characters that would tell the story of how that process was done.
  78. I started writing regularly for ‘The Atlantic’ roughly around the time that Barack Obama got inaugurated.
  79. African Americans are one of the oldest ethnic groups in this country. We been here since the beginning. Before the beginning.
  80. Donald Trump begins his political career in birtherism. That idea is connected to a very, very old notion that African-Americans are not citizens.
  81. As an African-American, we stand on the shoulders of people who fought despite not seeing victories in their lifetime or even in their children’s lifetime or even in their grandchildren’s lifetime. So fatalism isn’t really an option.
  82. I love living around black people. Home is home. We suffer under racism and the physical deprivations that come with that, but beneath that, we form cultures and traditions that are beautiful.
  83. To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world.
  84. We have this long history of racism in this country, and as it happens, the criminal justice system has been perhaps the most prominent instrument for administering racism. But the racism doesn’t actually come from the criminal justice system.
  85. I was born in West Baltimore, lived in a situation in which violence was everywhere.
  86. The African-American tradition, in the main, is very, very church-based, very, very Christian. It accepts, you know, certain narratives about the world. I didn’t really have that present in my house.
  87. If I wrote a Jewish superhero, he’d have awesome time-traveling powers. I’d call him Doctorow.
  88. We had particular policies in this country that resulted in the larger share of poverty that we have in African-American communities.
  89. To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies.
  90. If your response to the first black president is to say they weren’t born in this country… you might be a white supremacist.
  91. When I grew up in West Baltimore, anything associated – and I’m talking about my childhood – with white people 99 percent of the time was something malevolent, like it was an explanatory force for something bad.
  92. I don’t completely understand why people in Aspen want to hear what I have to say.
  93. The thing people have to remember is there’s nothing natural about racism as it exists in America. I mean, we know this historically. We can look at 1619, when Africans first came here, and how early African slaves intermixed pretty indiscriminately with indentured white servants.
  94. You had eight years before President Trump, a situation where the opposition party basically ran in opposition to the president on a platform of thinly based racism. That doesn’t mean that the politicians themselves were outright racist, but when charges of birtherism came up, no one repudiated it.
  95. I think riots happen when communities are under pressure for long periods of time. That’s not a mistake.
  96. I do understand how hate eats at the soul and how to purge yourself of hate.
  97. When you write, you’re inside the project. You can’t really think about the reception. It has to be worth it even if no one reads it.
  98. I get really, really concerned when I see somebody, taking $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, will not release what they’re actually saying. That’s concerning.
  99. 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.
  100. There isn’t a dude outside my dad who had greater influence on my life.
  101. I love America the way I love my family – I was born into it. And there’s no escape out of it.
  102. There’s a long tradition of black folks pleading with white people. It’s a tradition that emerges from political necessity, so I get it; I’m just not very interested in it.
  103. My job is to look out on that world that I write about and be as honest as I possibly can about that world. If that’s optimistic and uplifting, OK. If it’s not, OK.
  104. Chaos is what we have. That is what I believe.
  105. It’s kind of selfish to say that you’re only going to fight for a victory that you will live to see.
  106. People sort of went crazy when ‘BTWAM’ came out. I’m happy a bunch of people read it. I’m happy it touched so many people. I’m less happy that it became an object for certain folks or was discussed that way. I’m less happy that journalists started scrolling through my kid’s Instagram account.
  107. It’s very hard to be black in this country and hate America. It’s really hard to live like that. I would actually argue it’s impossible to fully see yourself.
  108. Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were dismissed by some of his critics as merely symbolic for African Americans. But there is nothing ‘mere’ about symbols.
  109. The FHA literally drew up the redlining map and then basically distributed – I’m sorry, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation actually did it, and then distributed to banks who used that as policy to determine how they would lend and who they would lend to. The racism in the system was pervasive and total.
  110. Like a lot of people, I’m very, very concerned about Senator Clinton’s record. I’m very, very concerned about where her positions were in the 1990s, when we had some of the most disgusting legislation in terms of our criminal justice, really, in this country’s history.
  111. ‘White America’ is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies.
  112. If you are attempting to study American history, and you don’t understand the force of white supremacy, you fundamentally misunderstand America.
  113. Amiri Baraka went to Howard. Lucille Clifton went to Howard. Ossie Davis went to Howard. And I was aware of that when I was there. Charles Drew went to Howard. Thurgood Marshall went to the law school. Being aware of that and having all of that brought to bear, again, it’s one of those things that I can’t really separate from my career as a writer.
  114. Somebody once told me, black people, in and of themselves, are cosmopolitan. There’s cosmopolitanism within the black experience. There’s an incredible amount.
  115. Racism is a physical experience.
  116. There is some group of Americans who are really, really curious to understand how we ended up at this point, where every week it seems like you can turn on your TV and see some sort of abuse being heaped on black people.
  117. I have never read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’
  118. People review my comic books. People review every article I write – ‘The Atlantic’ even publishes them. A great deal of the critique of ‘Between the World and Me’ was from a feminist perspective. bell hooks pushed back, among others. Some of that has value. Some of it does not. I try my best to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  119. Abraham Lincoln is singular. Abraham Lincoln, before he was killed, stood up and, you know, for the first time from any sitting president, stood for the right for suffrage for African-American men who had served in the Civil War. And that’s a limited suffrage, but it was quite radical at the time.
  120. It is, I think, the very chaos of America that allowed me to prosper.
  121. Many, many people of the Revolutionary generation, the generation that fought in the Revolutionary War, understood that slavery was somehow in contradiction to what America was saying it was. And many of those folks also, at the very least, gave land to African Americans when they were liberated.
  122. My belief is in the chaos of the world and that you have to find your peace within the chaos and that you still have to find some sort of mission.
  123. We’ve got in the habit of not really understanding how freedom was in the 19th century, the idea of government of the people in the 19th century. America commits itself to that in theory.
  124. I’m not going to break up my family, not for a book.
  125. There was no United States before slavery. I am sure somebody can make some sort of argument about modern French identity and slavery and North Africa, but there simply is no American history before black people.
  126. It is said that Obama speaks ‘professorially,’ a fact that understates the quickness and agility of his mind.
  127. The country in which reparations actually happen is a very different one than the one we live in.
  128. It meant something to see people who looked like me in comic books. It was this beautiful place that I felt pop culture should look like.
  129. The mainstream sort of presentation of the civil rights movement was not something that I directly inherited.
  130. My father was so very afraid. I felt it in the sting of his black leather belt, which he applied with more anxiety than anger, my father who beat me as if someone might steal me away, because that was exactly what was happening all around us.
  131. I constantly write about my safety walking to and from school, and then I would come home at night, and I would cut on the TV, and I would watch a show like ‘The Wonder Years,’ or I would watch, you know, some other show like ‘Family Ties.’
  132. People know things and have a remarkable capacity to act in their individual immediate interests all the time.
  133. My chief identity, to my mind, was not ‘writer’ but ‘college dropout.’
  134. I think human societies tend to be problematic.
  135. I just want to be really clear about this: Anyone who has read Colin Powell’s biography – there’s an entire section where he talks about experiencing segregation. Colin Powell did not appear when he became head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That’s not how it happened.
  136. Donald Trump did not appear by magic.
  137. I think it’s really important to be conscious of yourself and the world around you. For me, that meant reading a lot and reporting.
  138. If I have to jump six feet to get the same thing that you have to jump two feet for – that’s how racism works.
  139. When you know that people know who you are, you are always working – and not the work you want to do. You are sort of performing, because you know they are looking – or at least glancing – at you.
  140. The process of getting conscious, for me, was a very, very uncomfortable, disturbing, and sometimes physically painful process. And so that’s the standard to which I write, because it was what I’ve experienced over my time.
  141. I’ve seen, and liked, ‘Insecure’ and ‘Atlanta.’
  142. Fighting, I guess, was never the real reason I read comic books as a kid. The fighting was an important part, an integral part of it; I don’t know I would’ve read it without it.
  143. I had to learn to not be so hard. And I had a wife and, at that time, a partner when Samori was born, and for most of Samori’s life, a partner, who, for whatever reason, did not have to learn that and was very tender and very, very soft with him.
  144. White supremacy is a very, very popular and trenchant belief in this country’s history and heritage.
  145. We are all losers in comparison to Malala Yousafzai. But we are not all geniuses. Like me.
  146. The only people who usually have input on my writing are my wife and my editor. I’m not in conversation with anyone except the people I report on and the people I work with.
  147. The essential relationship across American history between black people and white people is one of exploitation and one of plunder. This is not, you know, necessarily about, you know, whether you’re a good person or not or whether you see black people, you know, on the street, and you’re willing to shake their hands and be polite.
  148. I just think that if one is going to preach nonviolence and one is going to advocate for nonviolence, one’s standard should be consistent.
  149. We want to believe racism is an artifact of the past, and if you have a political massacre, that contradicts that.
  150. From last century’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ to this century’s ‘Gods and Generals,’ Hollywood has likely done more than any other American institution to obstruct a truthful apprehension of the Civil War and, thus, modern America’s very origins.
  151. I think Barack Obama was born into a home not just to a white woman and white grandparents, but a white woman and white grandparents who shockingly told him it was okay that he was black and that he should not be ashamed of it and that he should, in fact, be proud of it.
  152. The ties between the Obama White House and the hip-hop community are genuine.
  153. When I see Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk, it’s only a picture. My imagination has to do some of the work there, to impute feeling and everything. We’re talking about something that’s so surreal, it’s just not possible within the world as we know it. So that requires a form that is not so literal.
  154. You can’t tolerate anybody attempting to threaten or intimidate your body. You must respond with force.
  155. Rates of black poverty have decreased. Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows – and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly. But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere.
  156. With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin.
  157. I enjoy the challenge of trying to say things beautifully. The message is secondary in that sense. Obviously, I have something that I want to say that’s very, very important to me – but the process of actually crafting it is essential.
  158. I don’t know that white people need to be ‘allies’ so much as understand that any black struggle in America is ultimately a struggle for the large country. ‘Ally’ presumes a kind of distance that I am not sure exists.
  159. You may not be able to change the course of government, but you can achieve some peace. And books were the path to that. I grew up in a house where books were everywhere.
  160. Outside of hip-hop, it was in comics that I most often found the aesthetics and wisdom of my world reflected.
  161. I wasn’t the biggest Captain America fan, but increasingly, I see him as a great character. Winter Soldier really got into what it meant to actually represent America.
  162. I try to write in a way that makes people feel things.
  163. Black people have been fighting for basic citizenship rights since the inception of the country.
  164. I feel some need to represent where I’m from. But ultimately, I think my only real responsibility is to – as much as possible – interrogate my own truths. This is to say not merely writing what I think is true, but using the writing to turn that alleged truth over and over, to stress-test it, in the aim of producing something readable.
  165. I was 24 when Samori was born. His mom was 23.
  166. Everybody thinks that an important book has to be a big, long book.
  167. I never expected my writing to become as popular as it did.
  168. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage.
  169. Throughout his eight years in office, Barack Obama endured a campaign of illegitimacy waged either by pluralities or majorities of the Republican party. Donald Trump rooted his candidacy in that campaign. It’s fairly obvious.

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