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Ta-Nehisi Coates talks Detroit



Today, the racial issues are at the forefront of the national dialogue in a way that they haven't been in decades — nevermind the fact that seven years ago, the election of President Barack Obama was supposed to usher in a new "post-racial" era of American history. A seemingly constant stream of news reports of police brutality and the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has shifted the conversation to the point where Americans seem to be finally admitting that all is not well in America in 2015.

At the center the dialogue is Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose provocative deep-dives like "The Case for reparations" and his latest, "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," have placed him as "one of the leading voices lending urgency, context, and framing to this current racial moment."

That's according to WDET Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson, who introduced Coates at the start of an hour-long special entirely devoted to his conversation with the writer. Henderson and Coates cover a lot of ground here, but things got interesting when Henderson asked why Detroit was featured so prominently in his latest piece.

Coates didn't mince words, referring to Detroit's role as a city used to serve different narratives:

"I think Detroit is the place where — to be frank and blunt with you — where certain pundits go when they want to lie to themselves. There's a narrative about Detroit that I think is not too separate from the standard narrative about mass incarceration, and it holds that everything in Detroit was great until the late 1960s when we had riots and when we eventually elected a black mayor. There's a sort of dreamy notion that people have about Detroit  — and I would use other language were I not on the radio — about Detroit and what actually happened. I think we use that to obscure the fact that we actually do certain things to make a city like Detroit look the way it looks."

Click here to listen to the full conversation, or read “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" over at The Atlantic.

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