Ta-Nehisi Coates points to a history of systemic racism that has led to today’s dual society

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Ta-Nehisis Coates and Alex S. Jones

Ta-Nehisis Coates and Alex S. Jones

October 8, 2013 – Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor, writer and blogger for The Atlantic, shared with the Shorenstein Center his thoughts on the dual society in America – its historical beginning, its impact on policy, and what implications it might have on the country’s future.

Coates, who is also the Martin Luther King Visiting Scholar at MIT, said that, “I have been trying to re-educate myself about the history of this country,” and that as a result, the not-guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case came as no surprise to him. “I didn’t expect anything different.”

What history reveals, he said, is that “racism isn't natural to us. Racism was put in place by a series of laws. Racism is responding to an actual condition that is not natural.” Looking back to colonial Virginia, Coates traced the institution of indentured servitude as paving the way to slavery, and ultimately to systemic racism. When slavery became the dominant form of labor, he said, “racism came slowly, racism came with the need for a bonded labor force.” So if “racism is all about power,” and not simply a “moral stain,” then “there isn't any reason why we have to be this way,” he argued.

“The evidence of us as a dual society is so overwhelming and clear, yet we take great effort avoiding it,” he said. The wealth gap between whites and blacks is staggering, he said, and “African-Americans are still the most segregated population in this country, the most segregated population that has ever been in history.”

What this means looking forward, is that “as long as we're okay with a dual society, as long as we’re okay with…doing nothing about the fact that black America is a second society, Trayvon Martin will happen,” he said, “and when it does happen, no one should act surprised.”

Article and photo by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.

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