diversity & race | December 14, 2016

“My President Was Black”: Ta-Nehisi Coates Reflects on Obama’s Legacy in the New Atlantic Cover Story

On the cover of this month’s Atlantic is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “My President Was Black,” a sprawling examination of America’s first black presidency—how it happened, what it meant to Americans of all races, and what it means for the future.

In the massive feature (which comprises several interviews with Obama), Coates dives deep into the departing president’s psyche, including how his unique upbringing informed both his personal and political relationship to race. He describes hearing Obama’s keynote in support of John Kerry at the 2004 DNC, and how it marked the beginning of his rise to the Oval Office:


“Over the next 12 years, I came to regard Obama as a skilled politician, a deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people ... For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell.”


Coates is also razor-sharp in parsing the President’s appeal to Americans of every color.


“What Obama was able to offer white America is something very few African Americans could—trust,” he writes. “He stands firm in his own cultural traditions … and says to the country something virtually no black person can, but every president must: ‘I believe you.’”


Additionally, he appeared on The Daily Show, CBS This Morning (watch below) and NPR this week, discussing at length the article, Obama’s eight years in office, and the upcoming transition to a Trump administration.



Coates is perhaps the nation’s foremost writer on race. “My President Was Black” joins an impressive canon of writing, including the landmark Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations” and the National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me.

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