Coates addresses Obama, Ferguson

Gillian Feehan, Senior Writer

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for “The Atlantic,” gave a speech titled “Barack Obama, Ferguson, and Evidence of Things Unsaid” in Trout Auditorium on Feb. 11. Coates is widely known for his piece, “The Case for Reparations.” He spoke at the University as part of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies’ “Post-Obama Paradigms: Problems and Potentialities” series.

Coates’ speech focused on the relationship between American history and racial issues today. Coates told a brief history of racism in America. Historically, African Americans have been plundered—their bodies and labor could be taken at will during the period of slavery, and in the 20th century when African Americans had to pay taxes for things such as public education systems, they were not even allowed to be recipients of their own funding.

Clearly, racism did not conclude with the end of slavery. Rather, it continued in many other forms such as Jim Crow laws and the lack of voting rights for African Americans. In his speech, Coates even made an intriguing comparison between slavery and homeownership. Owning a slave was attractive to those who owned a slave and those who wanted to, as homeownership is attractive to those who own homes and those who want to. Slave owners subscribed to magazines, as homeowners today do. Essentially, slavery was just as attractive and fundamental in the past as homeownership is today.

“Coates was very engaging, and I thought his analogy between slavery and homeownership was interesting,” Cori Thielemann ’15 said.

Through his speech, Coates made it clear that Americans are largely in denial about their history. For instance, people assumed that a case like Trayvon Martin’s would not happen again, but Coates argues that this is counter to what’s typical in America. In order to be released from this history and to be able to work to remedy social issues, Americans need to understand and come to terms with their history.

“We can’t resolve the chasm between black people and the rest of the country by believing ourselves innocent,” Coates said.

Following the talk, Coates participated in a question and answer session with the audience. Afterward, the audience was encouraged to stay and meet Coates during a book signing.

“Coates was a very engaging speaker and provided a well-rounded analysis for how our history is the root of current racial issues. Even more importantly, Coates pointed out that the solution to these issues lies in recognizing and acknowledging that history,” Mary Morris ’15 said.

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