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Ta-Nehisi Coates Isn’t Here to Provide Us With Hope. He’s Here to Illuminate Racism.

There’s a reason Ta-Nehisi Coates has won the National Book Award and is a MacArthur Fellow. He breaks down the complex issues of race in America in a way that both illuminates and holds us all accountable for our parts in it. He isn’t highly-lauded because he “makes us feel good.” He’s highly-lauded because he inspires us in the truest sense, by showing us so starkly and clearly what is wrong that we cannot help but be moved to some kind of action.

Coates recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, which dissects the idea that Trump is our “first White President” in the sense that every single decision he’s made or action he’s taken is directly dependent on President Obama’s blackness and setting himself apart from that.

Colbert begins by talking about the recent NFL protests inspired by Colin Kaepernick, and the conversation moves to “the right time to protest.” Of course, it’s never the right time, which is entirely the point of a protest. They talk about Martin Luther King Jr., and how now he’s revered as this non-violent paragon of tolerance, whereas in King’s actual time, 60% of Americans disapproved of him as an individual, according to polling data from the 1960s. The actual numbers and facts from the time disprove the idealistic pedestal on which many (usually white) people place the Civil Rights Movement today.

As Coates says, “If a majority of Americans approved, there would be no need for a protest in the first place.”

Later, Colbert asks “Do you have any hope tonight for the people out there, about how we could be a better country, we could have better race relations, we could have better politics?” To which, Coates replies, “No. But I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope.”

Colbert then brings up the fact that white people will soon be a minority in this country, to which Coates responds with:

“Your question presumes that there is a static definition of whiteness. And that this is the first time that there’s been a demographic change. It’s happened before. The Irish, when they came here, were not considered white. There was a period of time when Jews were not considered white, Italians were not considered white. In addition to the very definition of whiteness being malleable, the ability to vote is also a malleable thing. So you might have the possibility of the demographics actually changing, but who has the ability to use those demographics in an electoral system might also change too.”

Seriously. Don’t go to a black man in America who is already going out of his way to educate people in this country to also provide you hope about racism in this country. That’s an additional burden he doesn’t need. Colbert should be trying to make him feel better, not expecting the reverse.

(via Vox, image: screencap)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.