Ta-Nehisi Coates, 43, is an award-winning American author, journalist, and comic book writer. Coates got his start as a journalist for Philadelphia Weekly, The Village Voice and Time before breaking through with his first article for the Atlantic “This Is How We Lost to the White Man” which covered Bill Cosby and Conservatism. This led to The Atlantic giving him a regular column for 10-years where he wrote mostly about issues facing African Americans. He went on to write several books and comic books including Marvel’s Black Panther.
Coates made headlines on Wednesday when he testified during a congressional hearing on reparations held by the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Coates criticized Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during his testimony, telling Congress that “For a century after the Civil War black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority leader McConnell” He went on to add “We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox but he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodward. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama.”
He claimed that reparations are a matter of “making amends and direct redress” as well as “a question of citizenship.” Coates was asked to speak at the hearing because of his famous 2014 essay “The Case for Reparations“. In the essay, Coates argues that reparations should be paid to black Americans. “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole,” he wrote.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Danny Glover also testified at the meeting in support of reparations which has resurfaced as a hot topic in advance of the 2020 Presidential race.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ta-Nehisi Coates Has Written Several Books
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a published author with several successful books to his name. His first book The Beautiful Struggle detailed his upbringing in Baltimore, Maryland including the influence of his father, a former black panther and professor at Howard University, the street crime in the area, and his experience with Baltimore schools. He also touched on his upbringing in relation to institutional racism in 2015’s Between the World and Me.
Coates covered Barack Obama’s presidency in 2008’s We Were Eight Years in Power which features a collection of older articles and new content written specifically for the book.
Coates was the author of volume 6 of Marvel Comics’ Black Panther series which was illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. He also wrote a spinoff series titled Black Panther: The Crew which ran for 7 issues before being canceled. Despite being the author of the comics he did not write the script for the wildly popular Black Panther. movie.
2. He Received Criticism for His Controversial Book ‘Between the World and Me’
Coates’ second book, Between the World and Me, was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the Kirkus prize for nonfiction in 2015. Despite being well received by many, several others were highly critical of the book.
Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, said “Between the World and Me feels nihilistic because there is no positive program to leaven the despair and the call for perpetual struggle” and called a passage in the book about 9/11 “monstrous”.
Jason D. Hill, a Jamaican-born professor of philosophy at DePaul University praised the power of Coates’ words but said to him in an open letter “My concern is that you and your book function as deputized stand-ins for the black male and the black experience in America, respectively. And I believe that as stand-ins, both fail.”
Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote that Coates has “either a cynical or a woefully skewed way of looking at the world” and that “despite the undeniable progress that has been made towards equal rights,” Coates presents racism and racial disparity “as utterly intransigent and impersonal forces, like a natural disaster, for which no one can be usefully held to account.”
But every book has its critics, and Between the World and Me received much more praise than criticism following its release.
3. He Publicly Feuded with Dr. Cornel West Which Led to Him Deleting His Twitter Account
In December 2017, Dr. Cornel West wrote a highly critical op-ed on Ta-Nehisi Coates calling him “neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle”. He goes on to say that Coates represents “the neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fightback invisible”. His central message is Coates is a “neoliberal” that is soft on Obama when it comes to issues including Wall Street and drone strikes. Coates deleted his Twitter account, which had 1.5 million followers, right after the incident.
Coates was baffled by Dr. West’s criticisms and said he had no idea why the feud started in the first place. During a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., Coates describes his response and decision to delete his Twitter account “I got a tweet and it was like, here are all the black women who critiqued Ta-Nehisi and have been ignored … And at that point, I was like, yo, I’m in the wrong room… I did not come for this. This is not what my writing, my work — I don’t want my life to be about this. I don’t want ‘Ta-Nehisi fought Cornel West’ anywhere in my obituary. Anywhere.”
4. He’s Writing a Movie with Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler
According to Variety, Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the script for Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler’s new movie “Wrong Answer”. The movie centers around the 2006 standardized test cheating scandal at Atlanta public schools. It’s currently in production.
5. He Had a Rough Upbringing
Coates has written several books that detail his rough upbringing in Baltimore. His father was a professor at Howard University and raised him in a household with 7 children from 4 different mothers.
on February 3, 2017, he delivered the Ruhl lecture at the University of Oregon and described his experience “Baltimore was a really violent place. I mean violent. Like, when I was 12 years old, five boys jumped off a bus and stomped my head into the ground. When I was 17, I got hit over the head with a steel trash can. I got jumped for the first time when I was nine. When I was 11 or maybe 10, I saw a kid pull out a gun. That delivers you messages about the world.