Ta-Nehisi Coates points to a history of systemic racism that has led to today’s dual society

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor, writer, and blogger for The Atlantic, shared with the Shorenstein Center his thoughts on the dual society in America – its historical beginning, its impact on policy, and what implications it might have on the country’s future.

Coates, who is also the Martin Luther King Visiting Scholar at MIT, said, “I have been trying to re-educate myself about the history of this country,” and that as a result, the not-guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case came as no surprise to him. “I didn’t expect anything different.”

What history reveals, he said, is that “racism isn’t natural to us. Racism was put in place by a series of laws. Racism is responding to an actual condition that is not natural.” Looking back to colonial Virginia, Coates traced the institution of indentured servitude as paving the way to slavery, and ultimately to systemic racism. When slavery became the dominant form of labor, he said, “racism came slowly, racism came with the need for a bonded labor force.” So if “racism is all about power,” and not simply a “moral stain,” then “there isn’t any reason why we have to be this way,” he argued.

What this means looking forward, is that “as long as we’re okay with a dual society, as long as we’re okay with…doing nothing about the fact that black America is a second society, Trayvon Martin will happen,” he said, “and when it does happen, no one should act surprised.”

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