by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In early 2019, Ta-Nehisi Coates delivered the inaugural “Distinguished Diversity Lecture” at the Ohio State University. Coates’s hourlong engagement, which included a reading, a moderated conversation, and an audience Q&A, cost OSU $41,500.
The price tag included first-class airfare, a per diem, and private transportation, a contract obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows. OSU also sold Coates’s books, put him up at a four-star hotel that, per his contract, included “an indoor pool whenever possible” and provided a green room with two bottles of water and one box of Nature Valley “Crunchy Oats and Dark Chocolate” granola. The contract prohibits any fruit with pits.
Coates is a MacArthur “genius” and bestselling author, but even accomplished writers typically don’t rake in speaking fees nearly equivalent to the median household income of the city they are visiting. That sort of payment, however, is the industry standard for the rock stars of the new “wokeness,” a survey of nearly 20 contracts obtained through public records requests shows.
Demand for events like the one Coates headlined has risen even as statistics suggest racism has declined—there were fewer complaints of racial discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2019, for example, than at any point in the last two decades.
So why is the market for woke still booming?
Commentators left and right have tried to answer this question, with the former attributing the phenomenon to a developing political conscience among white America and the latter chalking it up to an irrational and ever-growing religious fervor.
A look at how well racial progressivism now pays encourages a different view: that big businesses shelling out for top speakers like Coates are responding to the demands of their most-valuable employees, for whom compensation is as much about the opportunity to hear their views and values affirmed as it is about salary.