What Makes Taneshi Coates Special?

Taneshi Coates has done something few liberal commentators has done – he has transcended the usual left/right bulwark as dozens of conservative bloggers and writers, who normally tend to ignore, ridicule or immediately dismiss liberals, have lent him an ear.

Back in 2013 or so, I used to comment on Taneshi Coates’ Atlantic columns and have the battle scars (lots and lots Disqus downvotes) to prove it. I stopped because I don’t wish to follow him down the rabbit hole he dug and second, and most importantly, he holds the power to ban people from commenting on The Atlantic. His ideology is a far-left – imagine like Obama, but more liberal, arguing that white people still bear a collective guilt for the alleged ‘structural racism’ that exists in America. It’s similar to the likes of Cornell West and other exponents of Marxist ‎black liberation theology, but with more storytelling and anger than found in the typical academic exegesis. But why do so many conservatives pay him any heed, especially when there are hundreds of other prominent liberals who write similar stuff? What makes him special?

Taneshi Coates fuses the cerebral-ness of W. E. B. Du Bois with the introspection of Ralph Ellison and the urban edginess of, say, Ice Cube. When you read a Taneshi Coates column, even if you disagree with the premise, his storytelling is galvanizing. White conservative columnists perhaps respect Coates’ seriousness, rawness, and authenticity in a world of mealy-mouthed, whiny liberals like Paul Krugman. When conservatives disagree, actively engaging Coates in debate even when they fully don’t expect Coates to change his mind, the very act of trying creates a sort of fulfillment and happiness that comes from attempting a good deed. And reading Coates’ struggles, as exaggerated as they are, maybe helps conservatives deal with their own personal problems, soft of like a therapy session or catharsis, and that by entering Coates’ good graces a subconscious guilt burdened by the white person is lifted.

David Brooks is sparring over Coates’ latest book “Between the World and Me”, yet praising the book as a “…mind-altering account of the black male experience. Every conscientious American should read it.”

Not long ago Andrew Sullivan, through his many public exchanges, tried to show Mr. Coates the error of his views on race, to no avail, with a persistence long after most people would have given up.

The political landscape has changed, too. The events of 2008 brought the far-left and far-right together in a mutually shared disdain of Wall St. and bankers. If Taneshi Coates, who optimizes the far-left, and the right can agree on at least one thing, that at least opens the window to further correspondence.