The 3 Best Parts Of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Must-read Interview With Playboy. | Gradient

The 3 best parts of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ must-read interview with Playboy.


Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the acclaimed memoir Between The World And Me and various essays shaping American discussion on race, history, and equality, sat down with ESPN’s Bomani Jones for a fascinating interview with Playboy. Coates, a recipient of the 2015 MacArthur Genius grant, is lauded for careful, winsome, and necessary exposition on how the racism of the past directly implicates the cultural rhythms of the present.

Here are some of the best excerpts:

On receiving “heat” after getting big

Coates is no stranger to intense scrutiny. Besides the tabloid gawking that led to the leaking of an address of a home he was preparing to purchase in Brooklyn — one that forced him to cancel the sale out of concern for his family’s safety — he’s also been under intense criticism from esteemed black intellectuals like Glenn Loury, Bell Hooks, and Cornel West. From Playboy [emphasis mine]:

Did any of the criticism hurt?

All of it hurt. I had criticized Cornel for going after Obama, but not in that sort of personal way. The bell hooks shit hurt because she was talking about my son. The Loury shit, that hurt. Eventually I figured out that they were aiming at the gaze of white folks. I didn’t account for how much that shit controls everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone somewhere and the question has been “What’s up with white people reading your book?” It alters everything. You’re talking about money right there. But I think on top of that it’s the prestige part. “Oh, you’re a MacArthur genius now?” Now people have to look at you a certain way and talk to you a certain way, and that has nothing to do with what you’re actually saying. People start shouting out your name and they ain’t even talking about you.

On developing his writing skill:

I’m a good writer. I think there are very few people who can do journalism, do history, form an argument, an argument with a brain, and then write in such a way that it gets at your heart also. I’m thinking about Isabel Wilkerson. I think of Nikole Hannah-Jones. I think Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker is really good at that. I’m talking about making an argument that’s simple, with all this evidence, and writing about it in a beautiful way. There are very few people who can do all of it at the same time, and that’s because very few people actually try.

Coming up on hip-hop really taught me the beauty of poetry. Reading comic books taught me the beauty of poetry. Studying poetry after that, I had this obsession with how language sounded. Coming out of my household and being a history major at Howard gave me a deep appreciation for history. Working under David Carr as a journalist gave me a deep appreciation for actually going out and talking to people. So I had a variety of experiences, but it’s not mystical. It’s not in the genes or in the bones.

Coates, a college dropout, goes on to say that he had been fired three times, including from Time Magazine (he was eventually named in their Top 100 List), an incredible accomplishment. Not only that, the late David Carr his mentor and friend, was his harshest critic as a young man: Often handing him well-written essays with a note: “Still waiting to see some of this in your writing.” Perhaps a small encouragement for the writers out there.

On learning about America after leaving it for France:

France was the first place where that was the first thing people saw when I talked. It reminds me that the first thing they think in America is, Oh, you’re black. Here, the first thing they think is, You’re American, maybe black American. They’re racist as hell, but the sociology that comes out of slavery is a little different from the sociology that comes out of colonialism... America has a very specific thing with black people. Here, the people who get it the worst are actually the Muslims, so it’s not like they’re cured. But slavery did something to America; it did some shit.

Black artists have long sought Paris as a respite from the uniquely dangerous racism, from Josephine Baker to a man that was very much his own muse, James Baldwin.
The whole thing is great. Read as soon as you can.

If you enjoy ‘Reactions’, subscribe to our podcast, In Case You Missed It. 

New Pod Flow: Sounds Good With Branden Harvey “Jason Russell”


Jason is the cofounder of the iconic non-profit Invisible Children which was founded to increase awareness of the horrendous activities of the LRA in Central Africa. Jason was also the director of the iconic Kony 2012 film that took the world by storm. In this two-part interview Jason and Branden talk about what it means to create a movement, what Jason experienced during his breakdown and subsequent recovery, and Jason’s experience in the world of theater.

New Pod Flow: Animalators, “ Aharon Rabinowitz”


Aharon Rabinowitz is the head of marketing for Red Giant based in New York City. During our conversation, we discussed the importance of work life balance, his start as a production intern at Sesame Street and why artist’s feel personally offended when you reject their work.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 040


United gets their cheap on, fake news, and Trump hired who?

New Pod Flow: Scribble & Jam, “Artist Matthew Perryman Jones”


Welcome to Episode IV. This week, Dan spends some time with his favorite singer/songwriter, Matthew Perryman Jones. Matthew and Dan talk about panic attacks, growing up in Atlanta, the way music is informed by pain and suffering and the way music gives freedom.

If you have spent any time watching television in the last decade you have most likely heard one of Mattew’s songs on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill and many others. His insightful writing and voice have drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and he is on the short list of songwriters who skillfully weave the deeply philosophical and the vivid utterly human without ever losing sight of either.

To get his new album Cold Answer, (which features the three songs from him you heard on this episode), visit

Subscribe on iTunes.

New Pod Flow: Sounds Good With Branden Harvey “Next Steps After the Presidential Election”


Branden sits down with writer and speaker Tyler Huckabee days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States to talk about empathy, justice, listening, and where we go from here.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 039


Special Election Edition, President Trump to legalized weed and everything in between.

This week we reflect on the election and discuss our strategies for staying sane.

New Pod Flow: Animalators, “Illo


Luca and Ilenia are the founders of Illo, a studio based in Turin, Italy.  During our conversation, we discussed their self-driving video bot named Algo, how Illo was formed and how they’ve crafted a unique office culture.

New Pod Flow: In Case You Missed It, Episode 038


This week we discuss Beyonce’s night at the CMAs, last minute election plans and how SNL might save us all.

Subscribe on iTunes and Stitcher.

New Pod Flow: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Podcast: Doctor Strange


We appreciate everyone sticking with us through this long hiatus but are planning our return even as we speak, with a bunch of new goodies and an updated format. In the meantime, here’s a brief primer on Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange — just so you can go into the movie knowing what you’re getting yourself into.