Civil Discourse 

click to enlarge Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates

The best columnist in America will be at Rhodes College this Friday. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes for The Atlantic, focusing on culture, politics, and American society, primarily as they relate to race. For better and for worse, ours is a fertile time for such discussions. When America elected its first black president in 2008, it led to a feeling of historical accomplishment of overcoming on one hand, but on the other there's been a resultant, alarming riptide of crime against blacks by whites.

Recently, about the death of Jordan Davis, Coates said, "We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition."

In maybe his most thorough and insightful work to date, "Fear of a Black President," Coates explains the Obama presidency's careful navigation of racial politics — publicly utilizing "the time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring" — up to the point where Obama commented upon the death of Trayvon Martin. In the essay, Coates excavates the fact of Obama as president down through the strata and sediment of time, race, violence, and oppression, back to the country's foundations, where whiteness equaled both citizenship and a "monopoly on American possibilities." Obama, Coates argues, chose to turn the rhetoric of his administration away from race and the more radical traditions of black thought, instead conforming to the "myth of 'twice as good'" and "half as black," just to be considered equal. That changed when Obama said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." Commence the racially charged political freakout.

Coates will be at Rhodes as part of a two-day conference, "From Civil War to Civil Rights: Race, Region, and the Making of Public Memory," and he will be speaking about the state of black America and how our society is shaped by race.

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks as part of the Communities in Conversation series, Rhodes College, Bryan Campus Life Center. Friday, February 28th, 5:30 p.m. Free. For more information, go to rhodes.edu.

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