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Ta-Nehisi Coates' magisterial survey of American racism is already the most important magazine piece published this year. It's the kind of piece, in fact, that may end up mattering in American life many years from now.

But it's also an unusual piece. It's an article that reads like a book, and an act of journalism that feels more like a work of history.The events Coates describes have been outlined elsewhere. The case for reparations has been made many times before, and often with much greater specificity. Yet Coates' piece has catalyzed a discussion over American racism and American history like nothing else before it.

"It's a reminder that if you're going to go on television and you're going to talk about the murder rate in Chicago, or you're going to talk about the shape of African-American families, or you're going to stand up and lecture black men about what they need to do, never forget that you are talking to a community that has repeatedly gotten a raw deal in this country," Coates, a senior editor at the Atlantic, says. "Never forget that. Don't talk to these people like somehow the American government, over the course of its history, has been a friend to black people and the black community."

In a wide-ranging interview with Vox, Coates explains how he reported the article, why he tries to approach journalism as a historian rather than as a "Senate aide," and what you should read next if you want to understand American racism.

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