Writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie confront the limits of urbanism.
Lagos. New York City. Paris. Baltimore. Washington, D.C.
These are some of the grand metropolises that have collectively served as homes to writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And yet, the two do not identify as urbanists.
“We have to be careful not to romanticize cities,” Adichie said at the CityLab Paris conference. In their conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, the two writers—well known for their work on issues of race and gender—talked about...well, how we talk about cities.
Idealizing cities as bastions of progressiveness is a disservice to people living both inside them and outside them, the writers suggested. Conversations about the revitalization of American cities, for example, often hail the “creative class”—a term that often does not include the people of color who have long lived inside these cities, and who have pride and cultural capital in these spaces. (Coates gives the example of go-go, a dance music that originated among black communities in Washington, D.C.,but that is becoming endangered as the city gentrifies.)
On the other hand, the focus on the rural-urban divide glosses over the fact that African Americans also live in the country—that they have historical ties to rural areas. Ultimately, that divide is a euphemism that doesn’t get get to the heart of the problem at the root of the political rifts in the U.S., said Coates. “[It’s] a stand-in for other divides that are already there.”