UNT Distinguished Lecture Series: Ta-Nehesi Coates

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

*extra credit post 

As a part of the UNT Distinguished Lecture Series, Ta-Nehesi Coates came to talk about the role that millennial have in issues on social justice.


Ta-Nehesi Coates- The Atlantic

Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. I became interested in Coates after his piece A Case for ReparationsI stated following him on Twitter after this piece came out and have enjoyed some of the insightful conversations that he engages in with other journalists.

Before the lecture, I was honored to be a part of a roundtable discussion. This was an opportunity for a select group of students and faculty members to ask Coates questions one-on-one.

Coates considers Ida B. Wells a genius. She was an African-American journalist who advocated for anti-lynching legislation, but no such bill was ever passed. Since Wells did not live to see the change she advocated for, does that mean her cause was lost. Coates notes that most activists don’t live to see the change they advocate for. But that shouldn’t discourage activists. With that being said, not everyone is born to be an activists, and if you don’t love what you are doing (being an activist, writer, etc.) then you shouldn’t do it.

Coates also talked about the “nonviolent fairytale” that was the 60s in the United States. If Hitler didn’t show the world the most extreme form of racism or if the Freedom Rides weren’t televised (embarrassing America) then change might not have happened at that time. The take away from the Civil Rights Movement is that you (individually) can not change the world- “the impossibility of change is the norm.”

One of the final questions Coates was answered was this thoughts on the use of the word “nigga.” His answer is in my opinion the best explanation I have heard (followed closely by this response from Marc Lamont Hill). People engage in conversations with people based on relationships. Coates’ wife refers to her friends as “bitches,” but he does not have the relationship with his wife or her friends that he would call any of them a “bitch.” Coates understand why black people refer to each other as “niggas” but he doesn’t understand the rhetoric that says the word should be banned. When black people use the word amongst each other, it is done in an ironic fashion, so for anyone to not respect that is to not respect the relationship that black people have with each other when they use the term.

Mayborn students at the VIP reception with Coates and Mayborn Dean Dorothy Bland (and our TA Matt)!

Mayborn students at the VIP reception with Coates and Mayborn Dean Dorothy Bland (and our TA Matt)!- picture from the UNT Division of Student Activities Facebook page. 

Now on to the lecture. Coates says that we make the decisions about what we individually identify as. For example- black people in Brazil and black people in Texas might not consider themselves the same.

Ending slavery was the ending of the right to someone else’s body. Voting is “cute” but it is just the right to have a say in how your tax money should be spent.

Race doesn’t exist, but racism does, but in order to get past race, we need to get past racism. This begs the question- whose job is it to get rid of racism? Do we need to end racism in our lifetime? Can we get rid of racism?

Coates ended the lecture a bit awkwardly, saying the biggest challenge our generation faces is…. climate change. I found this to be a bit random. I don’t see the connection between issues of race and climate change (he said that if we can’t get past racism, then we will continue to lie to ourselves).

One of the more surprising things that I took away from the night was that Coates does not consider himself an activist. I found that surprising because I think a lot of the things that he writes about bring make people feel like they should do something to change the world (that’s how I feel after reading his pieces anyway).


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