Ta-Nehisi Coates on the lie of "good intentions"
Writer and Atlantic contributor Ta-Nehisi Coates released his second book, Between The World And Me, yesterday on Random House's imprint Spiegel & Grau. The book, which is formatted as a 176 page letter to Coates' son, is part memoir, part personal analysis on what it means to be black in America.
In the book, Coates refers to white Americans as “Dreamers,” a reference to the American Dream, a Leave It To Beaver-style fantasy of white suburban bliss. The “Dream” he refers to throughout the book is his way of describing affluent white society, which, he argues, has only been possible thanks to the oppression of black people since the country's founding.
Very few Americans will proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of “personal responsibility” in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.
Between The World And Me has already garnered wide acclaim and rave reviews from critics. New York Magazine reported that author Toni Morrison wrote of the book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”
Coates is known for his well-spoken views on race relations in the US, particularly, his Atlantic cover story “The Case For Reparations,” where he argued that the history of discriminatory housing practices in places like Chicago has had a lasting negative impact on the black community.