On the Dec. 13 edition of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates shared his views on President Barack Obama’s legacy and his relationship with Black America with host Trevor Noah.
Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, has been a staunch critic of the outgoing president throughout his two terms. In his most recent report, “My President Was Black,” the writer posited that Obama let Black Americans down because he has failed to deliver on specific promises to help alleviate the effects of racism. When asked about his critique of Obama’s presidency, Coates did not shy away.
“The president in one respect wanted to be president of all people,” Coates says. “But in other respects, wanted to get sort of a Black pass. When it came to policy, it was always I’m the president of all people. I can’t do anything specific or special for Black people.
“He was saying things to Black folks that probably I would have less of a problem with if he was not the president of the United States and, thus, the bearer of the heritage and legacy of why Black folks are in a lot of these conditions.”
He jokingly admitted that facing Obama after criticizing him so harshly was strange. Coates said he “went really really soft” the first time, but after a pep talk from his wife — “You tell him exactly how you feel, son!” — Coates said he went hard the next time. Maybe, too hard. And even then, the president Obama managed to get the upper hand.
“He sat me right next to him,” the first time, Coates recalls. “He was like, ‘Say it to my face. You were all bold when you were writing’ and the second time, I was right across from him and he was like, ‘What you got to say now? You all brave when you got your little laptop over there.'”
Despite his criticism, Coates acknowledged that the president addressed white Americans in a way no other Black person likely could have. He credited that to the way Obama was raised.
“I think Barack Obama was born into a home not just to a white woman and white grandparents, but a white woman and white grandparents who shockingly told him it was okay that he was Black. And that he should not be ashamed of it and that he should in fact be proud of it,” Coates says.
Coates used Trump’s victory as a prime example of how racism works. The writer stated that Obama had to be nearly perfect to be accepted by white America, but Trump only had to be RICH – and white.
“If I have to jump 6 feet to get to the same place you have to jump 2 feet for, that’s how racism works,” Coates says. “And to be president, he [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds.
“Donald Trump had to be rich and white. That was it. That’s the difference.”
In the full interview below, Coates said, given Obama’s own lineage, the president’s respectability politics were particularly galling to the writer.
“You represent Andrew Johnson, you represent Andrew Jackson, you represent Woodrow Wilson,” Coates says. “[Trump has] the heritage of a country that for most of its history in terms of policy has not been particularly friendly towards Black folks and so when you then address them in this sort of way … ‘Why don’t you pull up your pants? Why don’t you work harder? … It just totally, completely rubbed me the wrong way.”