North Texas Daily

Coates speaks on past and present societal issues

Coates speaks on past and present societal issues

Coates speaks on past and present societal issues
March 13
10:33 2015

Linda Kessler / Staff Writer

From racism and diversity to changing the world, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lecture brought the future of social justice to the forefront of the audience’s minds by discussing racism and power in America.

Coates is an award-winning journalist, senior editor and national correspondent for The Atlantic who was invited to the university as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. He used this lecture in the same way he uses his articles; to speak out, to captivate his audience and try to get them to think about things in a new way.

“I have no fear [of being offensive],” Coates said. “My country has no fear of offending me and my job is not to make the world more comfortable for you.”

He said that while it is important to do what you feel necessary as it applies to changing the world around you, it’s crucial come to terms with your own limits and mortality.

He stressed that we, as individuals, cannot change the world. It’s just not in our power and it’s not up to us. We can only hope that things change, but need to understand not to pin self-worth on that.

“You have to think ‘I may not get what I want [in my lifetime], but I’m doing it anyway’,” Coates said. “I’m not saying to give up on the struggle, but be clear on the reasons why you’re struggling.”


Senior editor for The Atlantic Ta-Nehisi Coates explains his writing process Thursday night in the Environmental Science Building during a media interview. “Writing is not a natural talent, it’s cultivated,” Coates said.

Coates applied this advice when he spoke on race and racism saying that our call to social justice isn’t necessarily to end racism during our time. Our call is to be a part of the struggle, efforts and change so that it can end in all time because if we want to bring about real diversity in the world, we have to end race.

“The idea of ‘white’ cannot divorce itself from the idea of power,” Coates said. “That’s why it was made, in this country there is no history of defining ‘white’ any other way.”

Dating back to The Civil War, as the laws evolved we decided who was black, and who was not black based solely on power, Coates said.

He said there is nothing natural about race because we as humans make decisions on what to call people, and when to change the rules. If we stop thinking about racism as a natural thing we can educate ourselves and mature out of it, because to end race we have to end racism, he said.

“He’s one of the most influential and socially aware journalists of our time,” second year journalism graduate Staci Parks said. “I think he had powerful commentary on social activism and how it relates to the individual.”13_coates_web3

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks about equality, tolerance and other social issues in the Auditorum building on Thursday night. “Without getting past racism we can’t deal with real problems like climate change,” Coates said. 

Coates said being an activist isn’t always profitable for the individual in the sense that you don’t always reap the rewards from the seeds you planted, but that doesn’t make your efforts worthless. If you are working for change, you need to do it because it’s what you want to do, not necessarily because you expect to see results right now.

“I’m trying to rebuke the fairytale that if you love hard enough, change will happen,” Coates said. “It doesn’t work that way. You have to do it because it’s your truth.”

Journalism professor Neil Foote said Coates’ story has the potential to resonate with a lot of students who are looking for a symbol of someone who overcame difficulty and self-doubt about what he could do.

“I was kind of made into [a writer],” Coates said. “I was a horrible student but I still read and wrote, and that established in me that the writing was mine and I wasn’t doing it for someone else.”

Parks said she appreciated Coates’ honesty on finding and engaging in what makes you happy as a person and then developing from there.

“The true life lesson is that you have to be happy,” Coates said. “You have to find individual happiness in the work that you do.”

Featured Image: Senior editor at The Atlantic Ta-Nehisi Coates. Photos by Edward Balusek – Visuals Editor

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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