Ta-Nehisi Coates on what he learned from his time with President Obama
After spending most of the year writing his Black Panther comic for Marvel, Ta-Nehisi Coates triumphantly returned to magazine journalism with a massive new cover story for The Atlantic: “My President Was Black,” a critical reflection on Barack Obama’s presidency and legacy. Unlike Coates’ previous feature on Obama, 2012’s award-winning “Fear of a Black President,” the latest includes ample interviews with the outgoing president. On Tuesday night, Coates went on The Daily Show to discuss the article with Trevor Noah, who just had a big Obama interview of his own.
“It’s the weirdest thing, you know what I mean? You’re not gonna beat the president, but you still gotta fight,” Coates said. “He would summon these reporters, and he’s very tricky. The first time I did it, he sat me right next to him, and the second time it was right across from him, like ‘What you got to say now? You were all brave with your little laptop over there, but here it is.'”
Coates says he had difficulty calibrating the right tone in his interviews with Obama — sometimes he was too soft, other times too aggressive. By contrast, Obama is an agile calibrator; in the article, Coates even describes him as “the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen.” Noah noted this unique calibration has long been described as one of the president’s top talents, and asked Coates to elaborate on what he had learned about it.
“He was able to address white Americans in a way very few African-Americans could,” Coates said. “I think Barack Obama was born into a home not just to white woman and white grandparents, but a white woman and white grandparents who shockingly told him it was okay he was black, and he should not be ashamed of it, he should be proud of it. Part of that is the sheer physical distance of being in Hawaii, and not growing up against some of the grinding pressures of Jim Crow. That’s a very, very unique circumstance.”
Watch the clip below.