The Antinomies of Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on reparations for slavery, June 19, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Coates the moralist historian and Coates the cynical philosopher reach conflicting conclusions about America that Coates the writer never tries to reconcile.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE ‘A merican history,” Elias Rodriques writes at The Nation, “has always been a weapon in the hands of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” He’s not wrong. Coates often uses history to undermine America’s idea of itself as a beacon of freedom and democracy. Sometimes he does this by narrating stories of horrible acts from the days of slavery or Jim Crow: a lynching, for instance, or a racist bank deliberately making a predatory loan, or a white mob running a black family out of the home it bought in a majority-white area. At other times he will simply state a historical fact and have


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