The 3 Best Parts Of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Must-read Interview With Playboy. | Gradient
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The 3 best parts of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ must-read interview with Playboy.

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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.

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