“I am with you”: Author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Talks to Crowd At Matthew Knight Arena

On Friday, February 3, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, known for his bestseller Between the World and Me, visited the University of Oregon, where he gave a talk addressing race in America to a sold out Matthew Knight Arena.

Coates came to the university as part of the annual Ruhl Lecture, hosted by the School of Journalism and Communication, which was created to foster a relationship between the school and the mass media. The university also chose Between the World and Me as this year’s Common Reading, a program for first-year students.

Coates began his talk by calling out universities to acknowledge and reciprocate the contributions of black athletes. He pointed out that athletics tend to be a “big cash generator” and urged the audience to spend time thinking about the money that has been made from “black bodies.”

“Make sure you’re giving back as much as you’re getting out,” he said.

He moved on to describe the social construction of race, a theme that appears throughout his Between the World and Me, suggesting that the United States created races to pit whites and other races against each other, and that racial identification became necessary for marginalized ethnic groups to prove their race-based oppression was real. He then quoted a line from Between the World and Me: “Race is the child of racism, not the father.”

Coates also talked about enslavement as a social institution, comparing it to home ownership today. To find the multimillionaires of the 1860s, Coates said, you would need to go to the Mississippi River Valley because that is where people built wealth off of the labor of black bodies.

Furthermore, he addressed tensions within the country today, specifically surrounding the executive order signed by President Donald Trump, which temporarily bans people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. Coates said that as an African-American who has studied race-making in this country, he found it “heartbreaking” to see it happen again.

“I am with you,” he told the audience.

However, despite what was a heavy topic, Coates ended his talk on a positive note. He encouraged young people in the audience to vote, assuring them their votes matter.

“We have some tough times ahead of us,” Coates said. “But you guys should be inspired.”

Featured image by Nina Subin for the Willamette News. 



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