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Is Ta-Nehisi Coates The Most Influential Black Person of 2014?

Every year, the Root puts together a list of the Top 100 Influential African-Americans under the age of 45, and this year, Ta-Nehisi Coates tops the list largely because of his Atlantic cover story, “The Case for Reparations.”  The article reignited the national debate about reparations in a way never seen before.  Many feel as though Coates’ article was one of the first modern, clearly laid out, bulletproof arguments to be widely published and call out the “multicentury plunder of black people in America,” as Coates puts it.  Coates also did not mince words when he stated that, “until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

The scope and reach of Coates article was unprecedented in many ways.  The article set a single-day record for traffic to The Atlantic’s website and caused the publication to sell out at many newsstands.  The print edition shattered The Atlantic’s previous best sales records at retailer Barnes and Noble.  The article also was unprecedented in the fact that the article was given more space than any article in over a decade.

Coates may in fact be the most influential African American of the year, or at least one of the most influential, because he caused an entire country to pause and consider the truth of its racial history from an academic and intellectual perspective.  While conversations about race frequently happen in response to events that involve blood and gut wrenching pain, Coates caused the country to pause and consider the seemingly invisible economic and psychological wounds that do not provoke emotional rage on a grand scale but are just as tragic as black bodies subjected to the modern day lynching of police brutality.

America must reconsider its cultural narrative according to Coates.  The fact that Coates brought the nation’s attention to the systemic and institutional ways that America as beat down, discriminated against, and terrorized black people over the last 150 years has nullified the narrative that black people are downtrodden because they refuse to help themselves and instead replaced it with the truth that an entire system of government and private institutions have forcefully dealt Blacks a losing hand.  In the light of the unrest that has swept the country since the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the national conversation around race and oppression has perhaps only increased in relevance, and Coates’ words describing what America must do to move forward seem even more timely: “What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices – more than a handout, a payout, hush money, or a reluctant bribe.  What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.  Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.  Reparations would mean the end of yelling ‘patriotism’ while waving a Confederate flag.  Reparations would mean revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”

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