Ta-Nehisi Coates on How to Reset America - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Ta-Nehisi Coates on How to Reset America

Ta-Nehisi Coates on How to Reset America

By Sean Braswell


Because one of the nation’s foremost thinkers ponders how to reconstitute that nation.

By Sean Braswell

Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down with OZY’s co-founder and CEO on The Carlos Watson Show to give his thoughts on how to reset American democracy in the post-Trump world, as well as what his wife taught him about persistence. Here are some of the best bites from their hourlong conversation, which can be found on The Carlos Watson Show podcast feed.

Obama and the Power of Decency

Carlos Watson: You have had a rare opportunity to get to know some of the most interesting, powerful people in the world. And I want you to take people who may be watching, who may never get to meet President Obama or Oprah Winfrey or others, I want to hear a bit from you about what you have learned being around them. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Actually, the person I feel the most grounded to talk about is the person who I personally know the least but spent the most time studying and thinking about and actually talking to, and that’s President Obama. I think being a decent person really matters. That’s not the coolest thing in the world to say, but I think just, I think what the past four years have shown us is, a level of decency really does matter. … Obviously we had some pretty profound disagreements, but I always got decent human. And I think that’s important. I think, I don’t know when you’re going to have a president with that much brain power in the White House again. Polar opposite of Donald Trump, just the polar opposite. I think what America required to become elected the first Black president may not have been the same skills that were needed to ensure that we did not have our first white president.

Refreshing American Democracy

CW: If we did start this country afresh, give me one or two of the things that you hope you would bring to a reset America, an America 2.0 effort.

TC: Well, the first thing is I would say no statues — no statues and no commemorative art or anything that deifies. I would probably get away from the term “founding fathers” and “founding mothers” in and of itself. And the reason why is because I think ideals are probably much more important than the people who bring forth those ideas. But in terms of founding principles, I think the idea of egalitarian democracy, I think that’s just the bottom line, that everyone deserves an equal chance to participate in determining the destiny of the state. … I really think it’s important to start there. And I think a lot of things, actually, from health care, from anti-racism, I think a lot of things flow, anti-misogyny, automatically flow from that presumption.

How His Wife Talked Him Out of Driving a Cab

CW: Your wife, Kenyatta — tell me how you guys met and where you guys have been together in this journey?

TC: I met Kenyatta at Howard [University] … And the thing that I will always be thankful to Kenyatta for, among other things, is, when I was telling myself that, “Bro, you need to go try something else. You need to go drive a cab or something,” she was, “You just need to write more, you just need to write more.” And that was true. It just turned out to be actually true. So I think there’s a lesson in that. You decide what you’re going to do, and you don’t let the world decide it for you, and what happens happens. It turned out pretty good for me. There was no guarantee of that, but I think the bigger point was, I had something that I thought I had to give to the world. And you can’t let other people tell you what you cannot do.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories