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Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Visceral’ Take on Being Black in America - The New York Times

Ta Nehisi Coates s Visceral Take on Being Black in America The New York Times


“I wanted to make racism tactile, visceral. Because it is.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “Between the World and Me”

Stashed in: That's racist!

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one of my favorite modern web/newspaper writers.

How does he make racism tactile?

with a lot of words. 

Mr. Coates’s own trajectory, as he tells it in his 2008 memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle,” is one of relentless self-education. Growing up in Northwest Baltimore in a sprawling family of seven siblings, the son of a schoolteacher mother and a librarian father, he was a voracious reader but indifferent student.

“He was a disgrace to the entire family,” his father, Paul Coates, a onetime Black Panther who now runs an independent publishing company dedicated to out-of-print African-American books, recalled on Wednesday with a laugh.

He studied history at Howard but dropped out to pursue journalism, taking a job at Washington City Paper. He moved to New York in 2001, eking out a living as a freelancer between jobs at publications including The Village Voice and Time.

He started writing for The Atlantic in 2008 and soon after became one of the magazine’s bloggers, attracting a notably argumentative community of commenters he affectionately calls “the horde.”


Mr. Coates.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York TimesHe won a National Magazine Award for his 2012 article “Fear of a Black President.” But “The Case for Reparations,” a 15,000-word opus that became one of the most widely viewed articles in the magazine’s history, really put him on the map.

His argument was rooted not just in slavery and in Jim Crow, but also in more recent housing discrimination, including the federal government’s redlining of black neighborhoods in the New Deal — a fact, he said, that had been lost to “historical amnesia.”

“I got a lot of critiques for that article,” he said. “But what I did not get was, ‘This history is erroneous.’ ”

“Between the World and Me,” written as an open letter to his son, Samori, grew partly out of the feeling that the reparations article, for all its length and detail, “had left something unsaid.”

“It was very empirical rather than emotional,” he said. “It was almost like a math problem. But I thought there was also a work of literature in it.”the mainy

While working on a draft, he picked up Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” which he hadn’t read since he was a teenager. He called his editor, Chris Jackson at Spiegel & Grau, and asked why no one wrote that way anymore. Many had tried and failed, Mr. Jackson told him. But maybe he could do it?

That conversation, Mr. Coates noted, came not long after he attended an off-the-record meeting between President Obama and liberal opinion journalists.

“Probably being in the White House helped improve my sense that maybe I could do it,” he said, and paused. “God, I hate saying that, but you have to be honest.”

In the book, Mr. Coates describes racism in terms of assaults on the free movement of the black body, whether by the officers who shoot unarmed men or in more everyday incidents, like the casual shoving of Samori when he was 4 by a white woman on an Upper West Side escalator.


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“I wanted to make racism tactile, visceral,” he said. “Because it is.”

Tactile means apparent to touch.

It seems like the wrong word here. He's going for emotional resonance, not physical.

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