Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Response

Last week, the IU Bloomington Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists were able to pick Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brain after a speech he gave at the Musical Arts Center; I was lucky enough during that Q & A with Coates to have one of my own questions answered.


Me: Much of your work, especially throughout Between the World and Me, you thoroughly analyze racism’s effect on the black community with a lot of emphasis of deconstructing history. Moving forward, how do blacks take ownership of what we have been deprived of? In other words, what are the first steps that the black community needs to take toward self-reliance and self-determination?

Coates: I have no idea. First of all, you live in a democracy where you are not the majority. So, trying to achieve true self-determination, it’s very very hard, and you’re American. That’s the political order in which you’re born. There’s no black political order in the sense that we don’t elect our own legislature, we don’t elect our own president. That’s not how we’re organized. We’re part of America. One of the traps, unfortunately, in the book, is that black freedom in this country is deeply tied to the will of the majority. That is unfortunately true. I don’t know.

How much is our freedom truly tied to the will of the majority?

In many aspects, this is understandable; the political and economic freedom that blacks are denied of is still rooted in the American paradigm. When we speak of supporting black-owned business and turning over the dollar in our own communities, these are the same dollar bills that carry the faces of our oppressors, and those who founded the country that grew fat and rich from the enslavement of black peoples. Even our own businesses would still be in the framework of the American society.

However much our freedom may be tied to the will of the majority, with the majority being the whites that continuously benefit from the minority under-caste, self-reliance and self-determination are still goals to strive for. It is true that there is no one formula to save the condition of the black community, and many have come before me to try solving the dilemma of racism. But out of that effort came many answers: non-violent protest, self-reliance and self-determination, the Tulsa Black Wall Street, etc.

My dilemma is that the price of not having any answer to our condition is too costly, and the price is continued subjugation of black people.

Black bodies fill up many failing public schools. Black bodies fill up prisons. Black bodies continue to make the wealthy, even wealthier.

Whether our freedom is tied to the will of the majority or not, we must become as free as we possibly can be, even in the context of the American democracy. If black freedom is only loosening the grip of racism that has a firm grasp on our neck, then that is a place to start. Whether it be loving ourselves first, building community support, or supporting black owned businesses, continued action is a must because failure to do so means further subjugation.


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