An open letter from a Loyola student to Ta-Nehisi Coates

By Brenna O'Connor, '15  |  Photo by Larry Canner

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Baltimore native and national correspondent for The Atlantic, addressed an audience of students, faculty, and members of the community at Loyola University Maryland’s annual Martin Luther King Convocation.

Brenna O’Connor, ’15, attended Coates’ lecture and wrote him an open letter afterward sharing her thoughts on his thought-provoking comments.

Dear Mr. Coates,

Racism must have existed before the institution of slavery. White colonists believed they were inherently superior to the Africans that were forced into slavery after the Native American population was effectively destroyed.

You stated during your lecture that “America is born in enslavement,” and this must be true, because the existence of slavery contributed to the political, economic, and social formation of early America. Even after slavery was abolished, racism perpetuated for decades. Sharecropping and Jim Crow laws kept African Americans in the lowest ranks of the racial hierarchy in a society that was dominated by whites.

The fact of the matter is racial inequality is still a social issue that we as Americans have to deal with—and find a solution for.

You stated several times that “plundering blacks is part of American history,” and “plundering blacks is part of American heritage,” and this is clearly demonstrated in the red-line districts that restricted African Americans from living in certain areas. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, outright racism.

On paper, African Americans are equal to their white counterparts in American society, but you suggest that this, in reality, is not the case. It has taken centuries for African Americans to get to where they are today, and that struggle certainly does not go without recognition.

I was eager to learn more about how you define reparations. With this in mind, how long do you think it will actually take until full reparations will be given to the African American community?

And are reparations to be seen as specifically monetary, or can they take the form of rebuilding of infrastructure in certain areas? Are reparations, in essence, affirmative action policies?

The discussion of racial inequality and social justice has been at the forefront of our society, especially with the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. The American public is clearly outraged by these deliberate, racially-charged actions. But the question remains, how long will it actually take before full reparations can be made?

Our society will continue to evolve and, hopefully, these questions will be answered.

Thank you very much for your inspiring lecture. As young people attending an institution that places the highest value on social justice, we will certainly pursue these questions and topics in our education and for the rest of our lives.


Brenna O’Connor


You might also be interested in reading “Cultivating a Sustained Conversation on Race, Justice, and History” by Brian Norman, Ph.D.

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  • Posted by A father | January 26, 2015

    With the statement “The American public is clearly outraged by these deliberate, racially-charged actions.” Ms. O’Connor claims the incidents in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY, were racially charged. However, she does not provide any evidence to back that up. Seems she is relying on news reports that mis-report many of the facts in these two cases.

  • Posted by A different father | February 12, 2015

    Perhaps Ms. O’Connor should have substituted the word ‘incidents’ for the word ‘actions’.

    That the actions of the police in these incidents are so doggedly protected by those who argue “innocent until proven guilty” for them while simultaneously not acknowledging that the men in question were killed without a trial (not afforded the “innocent until proven guilty” standard we so dearly value in society) goes right to the larger point of racial inequity in our society.

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