This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Best-selling author and award-winning journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates paid a visit to Temple University on Wednesday night to talk about his 2015 book Between the World and Me and to discuss the systemic oppression of the Black community.
The event was organized by the College of Liberal Arts to celebrate Temple’s new history courses that were inspired by the book. More than 500 people attended the event at the Liacouras Center, including poet Sonia Sanchez. Between the World and Me is Coates’ second book and his first bestseller. It is about the constant oppression or “plunder” of Black people throughout American history. Written as a letter to his son, the book explains the constant threat of being Black in the United States because of slavery, Jim Crow laws, housing discrimination, and inequity in the justice system.
The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 66 weeks since its release and earned him a National Book Award for nonfiction. He also received a MacArthur Fellowship last year, commonly known as a MacArthur genius grant.
In addition to his work as an author, Coates is an award-winning journalist for The Atlantic magazine. His Atlantic work includes “The Case for Reparations” and “Fear of a Black President,” a critical essay about Barack Obama. Coates read an excerpt from his book and spoke candidly about the concept of racism and how it relates to the oppression of Black people in America, from slavery to today. He said that “race is an action” and that there is no genetic link to being Black or White. The purpose of race, he said, is to separate people into classes in which some benefit at the expense of others. “A decision is made about where certain people should be,” he said. ”In fact, [it’s] about plunder. Let’s just call it that. And then we put people in boxes to make it easier to plunder certain people and to allot certain goods to other people.” During a brief Q&A session, Coates was asked to weigh in on the incident involving a flash mob of teenagers that turned violent on Temple’s campus on Oct. 21. After raising a question about Temple’s relationship to the surrounding North Philadelphia area, Coates demurred. “I find that actual legitimate answers that are satisfying, intellectual, and make you feel like you actually know you’re not lying to yourself, not giving you the easy way out, they come from a long period of really, really reflective study of being in the actual problem," he said. "They don’t come from people coming here with titles.”