Thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Convocation Lecture, and the Tragic Myths of America

The 2021 Convocation Lecture for first-year students is being given by none other than Ta-Nehisi Coates, the award-winning author of Between the World and Me. While this is not explicitly a book about mythology, it does offer some “tragic” truths about America and actually speaks in interesting ways to myths and myth-making since the very founding of our nation.  In this blogpost, then, I want you to carefully respond to this year’s “common reader,” and specifically the Convocation Lecture by Coates on 16 November.  Your response should be two paragraphs long, and you might consider such things as:  In the wake of this event, what stood out for you?  What did you find enjoyable (or not), and why?  What did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about Coates’ talk, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of our class on myth and tragedy?  How did this discussion enhance your understanding of Between the World and Me in terms of its themes, anecdotes, or style?  Also, looking at Coates’ lecture critically, why do you think this kind of event is useful and important for all of you as first-year students at Stockton?  Having spent so much time together reading and examining this excellent book, I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts about Coates’ (virtual) visit to Stockton!

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Convocation Lecture, and the Tragic Myths of America

  1. After attending the convocation lecture by Coates, I really got to understand his perspective on the world and what really went through his mind as he was writing his book “Between the World and Me”. What really stood out to me the most about what Coates said was his emphasis on political involvement with recent events and how its playing more of a role than when he was growing up. He mentions that books such as “Huckleberry Finn” are being taken out of educational systems and expresses his opinion on why reading books without filters can deepen your knowledge on racial issues and conflicts. Throughout his book Coates doesn’t necessarily bring up the political aspects, but focuses on the emotions he felt at the time the book takes place. I feel like after reading the book and hearing what Coates had to say, I can really see our second unit in a whole new perspective.

    In class we focused on the racist tales and myths of early America, but after reading the book and hearing Coates talk, I was able to see the correlation between the racist themes of the tall tales and what Coates grew up with in Baltimore. After hearing the lecture with Coates, I can firmly say that his book and lecture are indeed very useful and important for a first-year student at Stockton. It opens up your eyes to the social injustices that have been going on for decades. This is what allows the younger generations to hopefully find a way to end the constant racial injustices of this country.

  2. What stood out to me the most was how every time Coates spoke, he spoke with so much passion and genuineness towards issues bigger than himself. His answers were honest, he spoke from the mind and was unafraid to sugarcoat anything just to pander to a specific group of people. What I found most enjoyable was the shared unity of Coates with notably Dr. Allison, and the other black professor to a smaller extent. It didn’t feel like it was Coates educating someone, but just a shared conversation between two people who generally go through very similar things in life.

    What I found very interesting was that some of his answers from questions asked by students. For example, I assumed he would have spoken more on the specific issues that black women go through when asked if the book was instead written for a daughter. Instead, his answer was simple and short: that he didn’t know. To make up for his previous answered question, I really liked his answer that Between the World and Me “wasn’t written for my son, but rather for Samori as (my) son.” That was something I genuinely did not expect to hear, but that just makes the entire creation of the book all the more meaningful. This discussion enhanced my understanding of Between the World and Me by seeing him verbally express all of the meanings, motives, and understandings of the novel rather than it being written out for the audience to read in their head.

  3. I was very excited to hear Coates speak. The thing that stood out the most to me was the way he presents himself with such passion but also respect towards everyone. He really speaks his mind and talks about everything in a way that shows all the knowledge he has and everything he has been through. Being able to hear him answer questions about his book was very eye opening, obviously I knew that he is a Black man that wrote this; but seeing him actually in “person” made it a lot more real. I had been trying to figure out how he would answer the questions that were asked but what he answered was the completely far from what I envisioned. When he talked about his son and the book was definitely something I did not expect. I think we forget that he lived with his son while writing his book so to us, the audience his reaction was something we were left wondering. But hearing him say that Samori witnessed the process definitely made me understand that Samori did not read it without any previous knowledge.
    Definitely hearing him answer these questions was what was so interesting to me. I also really enjoyed what he said about teaching things such as Huckleberry Finn in schools. I actually really agreed with his point about teaching these things because it is important to show what is wrong, and how not everything is supposed to be taught at one exact moment, things take time and as we get older we can understand harder topics. His answers were just so unexpected, his mind is truly unique and I loved being able to see him answer such personal questions to him but also to everyone in society. It was definitely a very beautiful learning experience being able to read this book that brought so much insight to me and then being able to have the privilege to hear Coates speak.

  4. I thought the event was a great opportunity overall. I thought how Coates really took the time to acknowledge the meaning and the privilege for students to hear him and for him to speak was very sweet and thoughtful. Something that really stood out to me was when Coates mentioned how he was thankful for his parents allowing him to read rather than preventing him from reading something because of what it was about/who wrote it. That idea never crossed my mind as a child and now. I would have never thought that I wouldn’t be allowed to read something because of something so trivial as who wrote it. Another thing that stood out to me was when Coates said he loved the loneliness of books. He really doesn’t go into detail with it but I thought that idea was really interesting because I disagree. I think books are meant to create a new world for the reader and so with that, a reader would feel involved rather than alone in my opinion.

    I thought some of his responses were a little odd, or at least not what I was expecting. Upon the question asking if he thought if there is anything that should be banned from the classroom. I wasn’t expecting him to dodge the question and make it about teachers. I wanted to hear about his opinion and not how he sees that teachers are the ones that decide that, to decide what is appropriate and not appropriate. With a lot of his responses I didn’t really like because he just seemed to “tiptoe” or avoid the question as a whole. Regardless, I think this kind of event is useful for first year students because it puts things in perspective. It is easy to forget that the author of a book is a real person with feelings and other opinions. However, seeing Coates talk and explain some things, explaining his experience aloud through zoom brings one back to reality. Being able to hear an author’s thoughts makes the book more meaningful. Being able to hear how important the book was and still is to an author makes it more interesting.

  5. Personally I found the zoom to be extremely interesting and a lot of the things he said I found myself relating to. I loved the way he spoke about things and how he answered the questions exactly the way I felt was true. Something that he said during the lecture that really made me thing was when he spoke of 9/11. It was a very controversial thing to say but, he talked about how when 9/11 happened he felt very little sympathy for those who died (firefighters and police officers). When he described it he said that they same people who work under the government killed Prince. Why should he feel bad for the people who serve the same evil? I felt that was an interesting take on it all. It made me realize how hard it is to feel bad for others when they would not feel the same for you. The times with the BLM protest is when I had a similar awakening in realizing how low these cops would scoop. I realized how little these people cared about me when my father was on a conference call for his job. The one sergeant on the phone said some incredibly nasty things on the phone and my father had to laugh it off. There is no sympathy for a system that constantly fails you and it stood out to me that his view was right. Coates also talked a bit about the Kyle Rittenhouse case and it related back to his book. We know that the charges for him are going to be little to none because of how the cases always go when it comes to the death of black people. I find this also going along with the idea of “justice for all” and find that to be a common myth in America. It will not happen and does not happen for many POC.

    Hearing him talk about his life and his son really clarified his personality. There were many ways that we were similar to each other. He helped me in a way enjoy the book more because I see how normal he is and that he is just a person who wants justice. This lecture is important in the fact that I connected with him more ‘face to face’. I was able to hear more of his thoughts and ideas. I related to so much he said and he really made me feel extremely inspired with what he spoke about. I felt like he truly understood everything that he talked about. He has accepted that the world is not built for the black man or woman and is working through it.

  6. After reading the book in class, I was really excited to watch the event. The thing that stood out to me the most was how deep he got. In his talk he was real and honest, just like he was in his book. I liked that he didn’t dance around the hard topics, but instead went straight into them. The part that really touched a nerve with me was the political side of things. It’s really eye opening to see how little has changed in politics when it comes to this subject.

    I like how he connected the book with modern things happening today. It made the book feel more real, and it helped me to understand it better. Hopefully by relating it to the world today, people will be able to see how much we still have to change things for society to get better. I think this event is useful for first year Stockton students because most of the students are experiencing diversity for the first time. This can be a big change, and with lessons like Coates, it will make them more understanding of other people.

  7. I found the Convocation Lecture by Ta-Nehisi Coates very interesting. When going over the questions, I found some of his responses memorable. For example his response to the question on if he would go back today in 2021 and change anything in the book, he responded by saying that it was an unfair question because it is unfair to the work to go back and wished you changed something and he also said, “books are a mark to where you’re at in time.” That last response I really liked and thought about for a while after he said it. He also kept talking about how much he enjoyed reading and writing and when he was asked what he learned in the process of writing the book, he responded that he wrote it over 3 times so he learned that he loved writing. I think that really showed how passionate he is with his work.
    Coates spoke with emotion and passion about his feelings on the book and really took the time to answer each question throughly. In class we have been talking about racial myths and I was able to hear what he had to say about his life growing up instead of just reading about it and connect his emotions with that topic. I think this event is useful because of the world that we live in today. We can connect with the author and also see how much times have changed over the years and also how some things have not changed yet.

  8. I really enjoyed watching the lecture and something that stood out to me was how he takes the time to do these talks. Something that stood out to me was how he kept referring back to his parents, who let him read what he wanted at a young age. I never thought that some shows have such a deeper meaning than just being a kids show. Coates dad wouldn’t let him watch a show until he knew the meaning behind it and knew his place. This stood out to me as now I look back at shows I’d watch as a kid and can now realize there was a stronger message or meaning behind it. I also thought it was interesting how he felt no sympathy for those in 9/11. Even him just bringing it into the conversation seemed a little risky but it was interesting to hear his choice. When visiting the 9/11 memorial you see a very different side, but hearing his take on the situation really opened my eyes and made me understand where he was coming from. A final thing that really surprised me was that he hasn’t read his own book in about 5 years, and that he wouldn’t change anything. He said it is not his book but the worlds, and how they chose to take his message is their choice. I found that line really powerful, he is saying he did what he could and put out they’re his thoughts but he’s not enforcing any of his beliefs on anyone else.
    I really enjoyed hearing Coates talk, it was very intriguing to hear his perspective on the topics. Some of the questions that were initially asked were a little weird, such as who’s music he has on repeat. I got a little annoyed because I don’t really care, I wanted to hear him talk about the book not music. When getting into topics that related to the book it made reading it more meaningful, hearing where he was coming from and what is currently going through his head with everything going on in today’s society.

  9. I really enjoyed watching the lecture and something that stood out to me was the passion he has for this topic. Not only did he write a whole book on it, he makes time to have these talks. Like he made time to come to our school, and speak to us about something he is passionate about. After reading the book in class, and in one of my other classes I was very interested to see what he had to say. He answered all of the questions he was asked, and answered truthfully. He spoke from his experiences and wasn’t afraid to get deep with his talk. All together I found his book, and his talk very enjoyable and eyeopening.
    While I personally really enjoyed this talk I think it was very important for us here at Stockton to get to experience it. Not only was the read very good for us as a grade to experience, the lecture as well. Together they opened our eyes to these topics, and better taught us to be more aware of them. That being said I also think it connected up with the class very well. We went over early American myths, and even our school itself. That being said I think these topics go together, as they both cover the topic of racism and the struggle for equality. With this lecture, and the class itself ti helped better my understanding of the book itself. It gave me something to connect it too, and something to learn from as well.

  10. After watching the Convocation lecture, my appreciation for the book definitely doubled. I feel that way because I was able to get an inside detailed look into what Coates was really trying to get across in his letter to Samori. I found it enjoyable because for one I already enjoyed reading the book and seeing life from a different prospective, but then to get to hear it actually from the author was really impactful. One of my favorite parts was hearing Coates talk about his passion for writing and the process of writing the book and how it took him 3 tries to get the book just right.

    When Coates speaks on politics and public views in Baltimore when he was young this can be compared to some of the topics in our class. In our class we have looked at different myths and stories from different points of time in our history, and have analyzed how those stories reflect the ways of people in that’s stories/myths time. This lecture is an essential for first year students like myself because it gives exposure to more important things like this book Between The World and Me.

  11. The lecture was very interesting as well as very educational. Being able to listen to him verbally you get more of a sense of his feelings which I enjoyed. The book as well as the lecture brought up a lot of things that to most people are just everyday tasks but to others are either life or death. Something in particular that exemplifies this and stood out to me is how it was a loose loose situation when it cam to balancing the schools and streets. Getting a deeper perspective on what students of color have to battle through to get a degree as well as survive the streets was more than i ever imagined. This was something that got to me because it so upsetting that children especially have to be faced with this and that their education is being failed just because of their skin color.
    An event like Coates lecture is very knowledgeable and was a great idea because it gives the audience of the book a more in depth reality of what the emotions are. It also helps students connect with Coates and his story as well as become educate on the serious matter. Overall, the lecture as well as the reading really touched the hearts of so many and brought to the audiences attention the ongoing battle we have been fighting with our neighbors, classmates, family, friends, community, etc. It showed us what the loved ones have to go through when they watch their kids leave the house, the worry they feel knowing there is a chance that they wont return because of one look or simply the outfit they’re wearing. The lecture and book showed us how people of color have to survive and it encouraged us to make a change in the world and find equality for all.

  12. I found the convocation lecture interesting. I thought that his thoughts and opinions on a lot of things were intriguing and I agreed with most of them. One thing that stood out to me was when he was asked if there was anything he wanted to change about the book and he admitted that he hadn’t read the book in a while and sees books as a marker of time. I found it interesting that the book that he was most well known for isn’t one he read recently. I also never thought of books as time markers or time capsules of an author’s feelings and views at the time.

    But one thing that really touched me was when he spoke about the lack of representation of black women along with black people in the LGBTQIA+ community. When he spoke about the solution to this would be someone who was a part of those respective communities to write a book about their experiences. I agree with this sentiment because I personally didn’t think it would make sense for a black man to talk about say a black woman’s experience in America. I also liked how Coates spoke with so much passion and conviction throughout the convocation even when it came to his more controversial opinions like him not having sympathy for those in 9/11. All in all, I found the lecture very thought-provoking and fascinating, and events like these are important for first-year students because they open us up to learn different perspectives and open our world view.

  13. After attending the Coates Lecture I found more appreciation for his writing choices and his insights into the writing process as well as a commentary on what is currently going on in the nation. For me I am also taking a communications class this semester titled News, Media, & Politics and within this class we take on the role of observing how the news and media shape our world of politics. For me I think during this lecture with Coates and the work I have learned in that class I came to really see how he was just trying to make this raw, emotional account to shape our world but also come to terms with himself. The news and media is there to represent the people and resonant with them and that was what exactly Coates was trying to do as well. When he answers multiple times that he would not know how he would change this for a daughter or different time period but he has no regret in that regard either. He is just trying to tell the nation at that point about his person struggles and just hoping that a reader will also understand and feel inspired by it. When I observe him through the lens of a writer and reporter he is truly a genius. Listening to him talk made me realize this even more. Every answer he was very poised and would just simply remark and create an open dialogue that got the listener thinking as well. This is an very important part of the duty of a reporter as well. Their work such as his book should engage the reader, relate to them, and then get them thinking on a deeper level. This is exactly what Coates does between the book and the lecture on Tuesday.
    For me one of the things that really stood out to me about the lecture was the dialogue he created on the banning of books and whether or not it is okay with people to engage these types of books. My mom is a high school English teacher so this is a very prominent topic and one that my mom’s school has many discussions on yearly. In my sophomore year, at the same school my mom teaches at, we read the book Huck Finn but we had this discussion on how we should engage with this text. We should come to terms with the deep dark past of America so we can move forward and engage with it logically. Exactly what Coates said when he said he would read these books because then that means he would be better able to respond to the other side of thinking. This is what more people need to do in general in the world not just with these banned books. For me when I am reading the news or texts I like to take it from multiple sources, some that have more leans to what I agree with and some that lean to what I disagree with. I am a better equipped for fighting against the other side if I know what they are going to say. I will also come across better to them if I understand their reasoning and can fight it in a way that addresses it. It is the idea of steel-manning an argument and I like the fact that Coates basically brought this up. In today’s age people are so swayed by what they believe in and refuse to even interact with the other side. As Coates would agree we need to at least know the other side so we can combat it and be better because of it.

  14. One thing that stood out to me is what he said about traveling. He said it doesn’t matter where you go, people with power are always going to take from those without. He talked about how it doesn’t matter if he goes to France or wherever because the race issue is going to be different depending on where you go. He also talks about how the issue is also a representation of the power people have over others. This stood out to me because people leave America and get out of their areas because of power and it just makes me think can I really leave the problem or racism and other huge problems behind? Another thing he said that shocked me is that his son kind of knew bits and pieces of the book so he wasn’t that surprised about it. Honestly, the book seems like something a parent would maybe show their kids or a book to get passed down to future generations in order to inform them how it was back then and reflect on what has changed and what can be done now. Although the book was written for Coates’ son, it’s kind of a letter to mainly the younger generation. One more thing that stood out to me and really connects to our lesson is when he explains how his dad asked him what’s wrong with Tarzan and didn’t let Coates watch tv until he understood. The whole message was to point out the problem and not go do things mindlessly. This relates to the lesson because that’s the point of us going through tall tales in class and different myths. We need to educate and break down what we are actually reading. it’s ok to read or watch tv but we have to know the intentions and the concepts we are taking in. We have to think about how we are represented and what does this say about what the world thinks of us.

  15. This lecture was a very eye opening experience for me. As a white person living in America, I need the exposure to the issues I am blind to. At home, I live in a very very *very* conservative town. It was definitely a change coming here and being exposed to different cultures, but I loved it. I like the way he went about the difficult things my school system failed to mention. It was hard to hear about some of the things he talked about like cops and police officers. That struck me so heavily and weighs my heart down. Talking about the system and how inconsistent it is for the black Americans was tragic. When he talked about the lack of sympathy he felt, I knew immediately I agreed.

    I know this is an important lesson for everyone to hear about and empathize with. When you go to college, you are met with a melting pot of cultures and social norms you may have never been exposed to. You may sit next to someone who has been all over the world and someone who has never been outside of the state; these experiences we have guide us. Someone who lacks experience can only wonder, and that is something we need to change. Helping others see through a new standpoint helps them grow and can help you grow as well. This is becoming increasingly important right now.

  16. Out of the entire lecture, I’m not sure anything was quite as relatable to me as the conversation about censoring books. In high school, there was an english teacher notorious for only teaching literature regarding racism. But when she (a white woman) would read books with the class she would insist that in the context of the book it was okay for everyone to say the n-word. All it did was make every student present massively uncomfortable. So when Professor Coates talked about how it was the duty of teachers to inform students about every perspective and teach us what’s appropriate and inappropriate about the books we read, I was able to relate to that on a personal level. In trying to avoid censorship of reality and history, my teacher had reached an unexpected extreme with an outcome just as bad, if not worse than, the original problem. I agree with every word he said about censorship and editing changing the meaning of a book and how it’s perceived and support the notion that understanding the right and wrong within a book is important to our learning and up to the teacher to help us understand.
    There was one section of the lecture that actually reshaped how I viewed the whole book. When Coates was talking about Samori, he said that him reading it was not a very big event, it wasn’t this big emotional moment, that Samori actually had input and had seen the novel at every stage of writing and revising. Not only that, but the book was written for Samori. Not for America, not for black men, for Samori. And with that in mind, that kind of takes away the questions about where the notes about a black woman’s plight are. He addresses that racism in America is not one singular issue, he only has one perspective on it and cannot speak for black women, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community, for example. I think that these comments from Coates resolved a lot of common questions and issues that people had about the book.

  17. After reading the book in class, I thought it was pretty cool that we were able to listen to the author live. Something that stood out to me was his words on people of color struggling to choose between the streets and school. Essentially they have to balance the both or simply choose one in the end. I really enjoyed how he answered the questions and how he was as honest as possible. His lecture tied in with what we learned in class about myths. He showed how unjust America can be to people of color.

    The discussion was able to broaden my understanding with our reading because i was able to listen to the author live. This changed the experience because i got a better glimpse of what the author was feeling due to the passionate tone in his voice. I believe that this event was a great thing for first year students to have because it allowed us to explore diversity and social injustice. It gives us the bigger picture of both.

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