by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, has enjoyed critical acclaim combined with runaway sales. Not only has the work been short-listed for a National Book Award, Coates also has been given the highly lucrative “genius grant” by the MacArthur Foundation.
After reading this fiery meditation on race relations, I have found that the author is no genius when it comes to economics. He believes, for example, that racism explains why blacks have been turned down for mortgages more often than whites, with no mention of the possibility that garden-variety issues of credit risk may have something to do with it.
Refutation of this fallacy is in The Housing Boom and Bust, by economist Thomas Sowell. Sowell points out, for example, that whites have been turned down for mortgages more often than Asians—which by Coates’ logic, means that racism explains why white-owned banks penalize whites in favor of Asians.
Early this month, I attended an appearance by Coates, which largely consisted of fawning questions put to him by an Atlantic editor, who also read a few softball queries submitted on note cards by the audience. Toward the end of the evening, however, my own question was read aloud to the author.
My question referred to a shocking passage in Between the World and Me that stunned even some of its admirers, in which Coates wrote that when 9-11 happened, the firefighters in the Twin Towers who died trying to save lives were “not human” to him. My question read, “Do you still feel that way?”
Happily, Coates immediately answered, “No,” and then tried to explain why he had felt that way at the time. Had follow-up questions been allowed, I would have asked him why his book failed to report that its author has since gotten over that callous dismissal of other people.
Coates should try another book by Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice. By seeking cosmic justice, rather than traditional justice, Coates can only do harm.