Speaking to a full auditorium of 1,200 people at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center last week, award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates challenged his audience to speak and write with aggression and honesty.
“We’re gonna talk a little bit tonight about lies,” Coates said as he began his lecture, titled “Race in America.”
Coate’s book Between the World and Me, a 2015 National Book Award winner, is a lyrical open letter addressed to his son about the creation of race in America and the history of violence against black bodies. In his talk, Coates touched on these same themes, speaking plainly and eloquently about the inextricable link between America’s economic success and its history of slavery and racism.
“Slavery is not a bump in the road,” he said. “It is the road.”
Coates didn’t say the name once during his 20-minute talk, but President Donald Trump was the clear force behind many of the writer’s calls to action. Of the President’s recent travel ban, Coates said, “I’m gonna call it what it is. I’m going to call it a Muslim ban…Just because people with power decided it needed a more politically correct phrasing doesn’t mean we have to change.”
Later, Coates said, “With a single stroke of the pen we’ve become the most Islamophobic country [in the world].”
The writer spoke directly to those locals affected by the President’s travel ban: “To the folks in the community who are affected by this—I want to tell you that I’m with you. I feel you. I see my history being repeated again.”
Coates, who is a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, said that it’s like race is “being manufactured again” as Americans fight for “Arab-American” to be a new official racial category so that they can gain legal protection against discrimination.
During the moderated Q&A that followed the talk, Coates reminded the audience that “from an African-American perspective, there’s nothing new” about Trump’s actions. An audience member chimed in audibly: “That’s right.”
Coates said he doesn’t have easy answers, but he encouraged the audience members to tell their stories. The “resistance,” according to Coates, is speaking and writing.
“Write with confidence, write with aggression, write with force, you know, stand in your place and maybe, just maybe, that might hit some people,” he said.
By Maggie Anderson