Baltimore Insider

Baltimore author Ta-Nehisi Coates will vote for Bernie Sanders

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Baltimore writer and public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates hasn't been out of the news much lately.

Sometimes he's gotten attention when he has either won or been nominated for another prestigious literary prize. Other times, Coates has raised a ruckus by tackling controversial topics in the pages of The Atlantic magazine, where he is a national correspondent.


Coates made headlines again Wednesday when he acknowledged on the syndicated, independent news show "Democracy Now!" that he plans to vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Democrat, for president.

"I tried to avoid this question but yes, I will be voting for Senator Sanders," Coates told the show's host, Amy Goodman.


Coates seemed a bit uneasy about that announcement, though not because he's ambivalent about his decision. Instead, he told Goodman that he feared going public with his preference for president could get in the way of his work as a journalist, a role in which he is expected to be impartial.

He later took to Twitter to emphasize "I'm not 'endorsing' anyone. I'm voting who I'm voting for (Sen. Sanders.)" and added, "But that's me, the citizen. Me, the writer doesn't speak for anyone else and doesn't intend to try to sway anyone else."

Coates' declaration wouldn't have attracted so much attention if he hadn't spoken out sharply against Sanders in the Jan. 19 issue of "The Atlantic."

Sanders had been speaking about an issue — reparations to African-Americans who have suffered centuries of systematic racism — with which Coates is particularly closely associated.

His article "The Case for Reparations" in the June 2014 issue of "The Atlantic" touched off a firestorm of controversy and is still being actively debated nearly two years later.

Recently, the Vermont senator said that he doesn't think that paying reparations was a very good idea, at least in part because such a proposal would never get through Congress. Instead, Sanders said, funds ought to be invested in improving institutions that have failed African-Americans, such as the public schools and criminal justice systems.

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Coates told Goodman that in other American leaders have pledged and failed to make reforms similar to those proposed by Sanders.

"The fact is that throughout American history, it's been very difficult to deliver on those promises — every person a job; every person a quality education; every person quality health care — while avoiding the issue of white supremacy," Coates said.


"If we on the left can't embrace this idea that black folks have been specifically injured and that there should be specific remedies for that injury, then we have no hope. Forgive me of expecting more of Senator Sanders than I expect of Senator [Hillary] Clinton, but I do."

But, he added that planning to vote for a particular candidate is not the same thing as marching in ideological lockstep.

"One can say that Senator Sanders should have more a explicit anti-racism policy ... and still feel that Senator Sanders is the best option we have in this race," Coates said.

"But just because that's who you're going to vote for doesn't mean that you then have to agree with everything they say."