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Ta-Nehisi Coates Quotes Providing Insight on Race and Culture

Our latest collection of Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes on Everyday Power.

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author, journalist and writer. He is best known for his writing in The Atlantic, and for his book Between the World and Me, which covers the contemporary issues facing the black community. He is also the author of The Beautiful Struggle and We Were Eight Years in Power.

Coates’ articles regarding such topics as cultural, social and political issues, have been featured in publications like Time, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. His works focus on important issues in American society such as racial identity, urban policing, and racial bias.

Born in Baltimore in 1975, Coates developed a love for books from an early age. He attended high school in Baltimore and then enrolled at Howard University to study journalism but left before completing his degree.

Coates has won the Kirkus Prize as well as a MacArthur Fellowship. Besides, his book (Between the World and Me) was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

As one of the most acclaimed voices of his generation, Coates is someone who has clearly tapped into his Everyday Power. In that respect, below is our collection of insightful and inspirational Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes providing insight on race and culture

1. “You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Don’t dim your light for the sake of other people. If other people have an issue with what you are becoming, that is their problem to resolve. Your job is to be the best version of yourself that you can be, shining as brightly as you are able. You are capable of much more than you think!

2. “I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” –  Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: We have to be aware of the world we live in. This includes the good and bad parts. Being a conscious citizen means you understand the value of being human, cherish human life and relationships, and transform your skills into actions that make a difference.

3. “One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: We should always hold ourselves to a high standard. However, if you are going to proclaim something out loud, then you should make sure your actions align with your words.

4. “I think it’s really important to be conscious of yourself and the world around you. For me, that meant reading a lot and reporting.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Reading is the gateway to knowledge. We can read about the past, and hopefully, learn to avoid the same mistakes. We need to read current events so we know what is going on around us. Reading can help us learn new skills and improve our lives. However you choose to be conscious and learn, it is important to keep doing it!

5. “It’s kind of selfish to say that you’re only going to fight for a victory that you will live to see.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes providing insight on race and culture

Everyday Application: Sometimes, our actions can create powerful change. However, that kind of change takes time. It all starts somewhere and because someone is selfless enough to make the sacrifices required so the future can be brighter for someone else.

6. “The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Everyday Application: Knowledge and formal education are not the same thing. Yes, you receive knowledge when you participate in formal education. However, that is not the only way to gain knowledge. Reading and experiences are also great teachers. Immerse yourself in the world around you, including the words of others!

7. “I love living around black people. Home is home. We suffer under racism and the physical deprivations that come with that, but beneath that, we form cultures and traditions that are beautiful.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: The different cultures of various races and populations of people are all unique. Culturally significant traditions unite people and provide a sense of community. Learning about cultures that are different than your own is also a great experience for everyone!

If you’re enjoying these quotes, you’ll love our collection of culture quotes about its power in society.

8. “I just think that if one is going to preach nonviolence and one is going to advocate for nonviolence, one’s standard should be consistent.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Then, follow through on the things you say with actions that are consistent. This will build integrity and increase the trust that people have for you.

9. “You may not be able to change the course of government, but you can achieve some peace. And books were the path to that. I grew up in a house where books were everywhere.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: You can find a lot of things in books. Peace, knowledge, inspiration, and insight are just a few things that you can discover between the pages of a book. What is the most powerful book you have read?

10. “So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Nothing is permanent, and while that can be a scary thought, it can also be freeing. Everything around us is always changing and evolving. We should all strive to do the same. Coates also remind us how important action is with this quote!

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the reality of being black in America

11. “I enjoy the challenge of trying to say things beautifully. The message is secondary in that sense. Obviously, I have something that I want to say that’s very, very important to me – but the process of actually crafting it is essential.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Words are incredibly powerful. How you string them together matters. Margaret Atwood once said, “A word after a word after a word is power.” Are your words enhancing the message that you are trying to send?

12. “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.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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13. “Black is beautiful—which is to say that the black body is beautiful, that black hair must be guarded against the torture of processing and lye, that black skin must be guarded against bleach, that our noses and mouths must be protected against modern surgery. We are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

14. “My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Look to people who have had similar struggles in life for inspiration. Pay attention to how the people who are living the way you want to live do things. Learn from the mistakes of others. These are all great ways to achieve your goals and dreams. However, these people’s paths are their own. You are responsible for walking your own path. Conversely, no matter how much you love someone you can not make them choose certain things.

15. “Anyone can make a baby, but it takes a man to be a father.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the reality of being black in America

16. “What I am telling you is that you do not need to know to love, and it is right that you feel it all in any moment. And it is right that you see it through–that you are amazed, then curious, then belligerent, then heartbroken, then numb. You have the right to all of it.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

17. “The most precious thing I had then is the most precious thing I have now—my own curiosity. That is the thing I knew, even in the classroom, they could not take from me. That is the thing that buoyed me and eventually plucked me from the sea.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Curiosity is what keeps us questioning and trying to learn. It is essential because it means that your brain is active and becoming stronger. Curiosity also trains your brain to look for and be open to new possibilities. Also, the more curious you are, the less likely you are to be bored.

18. “I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

19. “What I want you to know is that this is not your fault, even if it is ultimately your responsibility.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

20. “An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Other thought provoking Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes

21. “I found that the same softness which once made me a target now compelled people to trust me with their stories.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Your greatest weaknesses can become your greatest strengths. It is just a matter of perception. You might think that your kind and soft heart is a weakness because people seem to walk over you. However, to the people that have been on the receiving end of that kindness (and appreciated it), it is a trait that sets you apart from others.

22. “Even in those pieces that seemed to be casually tossed off, I was always searching for the right word, for the proper escape from the clichés that threatened every sentence, from truisms that threatened to steer me back into the sentimental dream.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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23. “What we must never do is willingly hand over our own bodies or the bodies of our friends. That was the wisdom: We knew we did not lay down the direction of the street, but despite that, we could—and must—fashion the way of our walk. And that is the deeper meaning of your name—that the struggle, in and of itself, has meaning.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

24. “It is by choice not chance…that we choose to advance, The Marshall Team; We can achieve…We will achieve.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

25. “No matter what the professional talkers tell you, I never met a black boy who wanted to fail.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

thought provoking Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes

26. “Everything that was the past seemed to be another life. There was before you, and then there was after, and in this after, you were the God I’d never had. I submitted before your needs, and I knew then that I must survive for something more than survival’s sake. I must survive for you.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

27. “We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. Here” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

28. “Black people are not the descendants of kings. We are—and I say this with big pride—the progeny of slaves. If there’s any majesty in our struggle, it lies not in fairy tales but in those humble origins and the great distance we’ve traveled since.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

29. “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyday Application: Everyone of us matters and has value. Each of us should be able to be our authentic selves and live a life that helps us grow. What are some ways that you can comfortably be you? Start with improving your self-awareness and learn who you actually are. Let go of limiting beliefs and negative self talk. Next, do your best to stop caring what other people think about you and your choices.

30. “What I came to understand was that the great democracy in this, and that what mattered to these boys was not so much what you came to the street with but how you carried what you were given.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Which of these Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes was your favorite?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most important political writers and thinkers of his generation. He has developed a set of linguistic tools that have opened up new ways for black Americans to describe the world and its workings.

A highly distinctive voice, Coates is having profound impact on the discussion of race and racism in American society. Hopefully, the above quotes will inspire you to examine some of the social conditions of our time.

Did you enjoy these Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes? Which of the quotes was your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.

Norbert Juma, Lead Editor
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  1. Andrea

    March 13, 2019 at 7:40 AM

    Thank you. My life has been ‘recreated’ and valued from a source I do value in Ta-neishi.

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