Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates didn’t get to be the most discussed public ‘intellectual’ in America by pussyfooting around when it comes to race.
So he was characteristically direct this week during a trip to Chicago, telling Chicago Inc. that President Donald Trump and conservatives “use Chicago as a tool — ‘Chicago’ has become code for ‘black people.'”
Raised in Baltimore in the 1980s, Coates won the National Book Award for his 2015 memoir “Between the World and Me” and has become a darling of the left for his trenchant criticism of the central role of white supremacy in U.S. history. He said the constant national focus on Chicago’s crime problem started under President Barack Obama as a way to diminish the first black chief executive.
“They use ‘Chicago’ to shame people,” he said. “I’m from Baltimore and I grew up in the height of the crack era,” he said. “I’m not trying to make light of any of the violence in Chicago at all that you see on the West Side or the South Side, but this sense that Chicago is somehow alien or outside of America is just absurd, it’s ridiculous.
“I love Baltimore, but I go back and they are still struggling with the same problems they were in 1985.”
Coates spoke Monday at the Chicago Humanities Festival and was scheduled to speak at an event in Lincoln Park and at Evanston Township High School this week — evidence of the high demand he is in. In addition to serving as a national correspondent at The Atlantic, he also writes Marvel’s “Black Panther” comic and is about to start work on a movie script about a school exam cheating scandal, starring Michael B. Jordan and adapted from a New Yorker article.
Still, Coates rejected the idea that Trump’s election had benefited him personally by creating an audience more receptive to his message.
“I would rather he had not won,” Coates said. “And I would have been saying the same thing if Hillary had won.”
“There’s always going to be people who don’t like what you’re doing, but you can’t have everybody love you. … If you are fortunate enough to get any type of large readership, there will be people who don’t like what you do, and that’s fine.”
The White House couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
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