On Wednesday, March 27, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates visited Vanderbilt as Night 3 of the IMPACT lineup, following soccer player Abby Wambach the night before. Coates began with a reading of his Between the World and Me, followed up with a discussion on stage, and ended the evening with several questions from the audience.
As I listened, I was struck by Coates’s emphasis on the construction of a “post-racist” society, as opposed to a post-racial one. This specific phrasing stuck with me after the event not because I disagreed with Coates, but because I had never conceived of such a framework for the “ideal” society in the first place. I had considered racism the force that compelled - or at least allowed - the American slave trade, but Coates seemed to frame it as more of a power struggle than anything else. He recommended the book American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan to the audience to learn more about the context of his argument.
In this same vein, Coates also detailed why he felt that “those who believe themselves to be white” struggled against such a society, in which markers for race would cease to exist. Coates reminded the audience that American Blackness is a culture, one that would still exist without a racial marker. Whiteness, he contrasted, was rooted in power, and would cease to exist if racism did not: there is no cultural makeup of “whiteness” to last beyond a racist society.
I was particularly thrilled for one of the last questions, in which an audience member asked what writing Captain America comics was like for Coates, considering Coates’s typical subject matter and Captain America’s status as the archetypal American hero. Coates revealed that he loved it. He detailed that the concept of writing about an American hero, one part of the Great Generation and then frozen time before landing in the present day, was a complex and exciting concept about which to write.
Overall, I found Coates’s discussion points engaging and educational, with a healthy dose of humor in thrown in as well. Though the night felt brief, it packed a thought-provoking punch.