I was thrilled to speak with journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on my WBAI radio show last week. Coates’ latest book Between The World and Me was called “required reading” by Toni Morrison, was nominated for a National Book Award, and earned him a MacCarthur Genius Grant. In the summer of 2014, Coates rekindled a national debate with his piece Atlantic cover article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates didn’t always believe that reparations were owed. When I asked him what changed his mind he responded:
I think I was a much more standard issue liberal in the sense that I thought that many of the problems in the African-American community could be fixed by class-based solutions. And then increasingly as I saw more research about segregation, as I saw more research about community poverty, it became clear that Black people themselves are a class in and of themselves, that one can’t sub in and out the Black middle class and the white middle class, that these are different groups of people, that racism itself is an injury, not just a different kind of classism, that it is an injury in and of itself, that Black people have been injured, that Black middle class people have been injured, that Black quote un quote rich people have been injured.
Coates compared the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out racism to the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out sexism: “In the way that sexism injures women… it doesn’t matter that some of these women are rich. Just being rich does not mean that you’re not injured, or that you can’t be injured by sexism. When I could recognize that as an interest in and of itself, well that changed things.”