Author Ta-Nehisi Coates appeared on The Daily Show Thursday to discuss his acclaimed new book Between the World and Me, an unrelenting look at racist violence in America. During his interview with Jon Stewart, Coates talked about the pivotal event in his life that largely inspired the book.
“It’s always tough to tell when you begin a book like this because people see that it actually reaches back to my earliest memories, but I had to say a beginning, it would have to be the murder of my good friend Prince Jones,” Coates says. “He was trailed through three jurisdictions by a police officer who mistaked him for somebody else and shot him down. That was horrific. I don’t know if I made my peace with it… writing is something that we do to try to do that, to try to make some sort of sense of it.”
Coates also tackles the struggles facing the black community. “One of the things we tell ourselves as African-Americans is if we work hard, play by the rules, we do start back a little ways, but if we can be twice as good somehow we can escape history and heritage and legacy,” Coates said.
Coates then says that America should own up to its checkered history instead of pretending that it didn’t happen. “The plunder of black communities is not a bump along the road but it is, in fact, the road itself, that you can’t have in America without enslavement, without Jim Crow, terrorism, everything that came after that,” Coates adds. “It makes it very, very hard to preach to other countries and say, listen, we’re the unbesmirched land of the free… It reveals us to be not necessarily worse than other countries, but quite mortal.”