Even Wealthy Geniuses Can’t Go Home Again

Sad news about TNC’s dream house confirmed

bye bye, house

A New York Times article about Ta-Nehisi Coates now makes explicit what an Atlantic essay by Coates implied: the prize-winning writer and official Genius will not be moving into the Brooklyn townhouse he was so excited to buy.

The journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates said on Monday that he and his family would not move into a $2.1 million Brooklyn brownstone they recently bought because media coverage of the purchase had made them worried for their safety.

Mr. Coates and his wife used a limited-liability corporation to shield their identities during the transaction — a legal maneuver frequently used by celebrities seeking privacy — but word of the sale leaked to The New York Post, which published an article about the purchase with pictures of the house last week. Real estate and other news organizations soon followed suit.

Stupid New York Post, ruining everything!

The LLC Coates used to make the initial purchase had an unusually unique and appropriate name: Ellen and William Craft Excursions LLC. Ellen and William Craft were a real-life American married couple who managed to escape from slavery. DNA Info explains that, because Ellen was light-skinned — the product of rape by her white “master” — she passed herself off as the white owner of her husband William. Together they fled north and eventually to England before returning post-Civil War and setting up a school in Georgia. Now that’s a movie I would pay to see.

LLCs are usually used to cloak the identities of, and provide certain tax or financial benefits to, individuals. Emma Watson has one, for example: her whimsically named Falling Leaves LLC turned up in the Panama Papers (!!). That bit of breaking news was all the inducement Mallory needed to start writing fan fiction.

“Professor Slughorn,” Hermione asked brightly, “What if someone wanted to split his wealth into multiple offshore accounts? Say…seven?
“Good heavens, seven?”
“Well, isn’t seven considered a magically significant number?”
“Merline’s beard, girl! Isn’t it bad enough to consider doing it once? To dodge their tax bill seven times…This is all hypothetical, isn’t it, Hermione? All academic?”
“Of course, sir,” Hermione said, smiling. “It’ll be our little secret.”

Thank you for the tip, Nicole!

TNC’s LLC was, as far as we know, set up for no more nefarious purpose than to help him fulfill the American dream by working hard, accruing wealth, and buying a home for his family. But it wasn’t sufficient.

Mr. Coates had hoped the discreetly purchased house could give his family an oasis from the demands of his public persona, he said. He and his wife had lived in the same neighborhood in their 20s, and it felt familiar and warm. “We thought we’d found a port in that storm,” he wrote.

Instead, news of the sale brought them even more attention. Some news media outlets printed his wife’s name, he said, while others “rummaged through my kid’s Instagram account.” It all became too much.

I’d say I defy anyone not to feel bad for TNC, especially after reading his bittersweet meditation in the Atlantic (“you can’t really be a black writer in this country, take certain positions, and not think about your personal safety”) — except that the people who don’t feel bad for him have already clamored to make themselves heard. Here’s Rod Dreher at the American Conservative, for example, who’s actually more sympathetic than some:

On one level, it’s ridiculous. On another, there’s a lot of pathos there.

Here’s what I think is eye-rolling about this account. Worrying about safety to the degree he expresses here is overwrought, to put it mildly. Are people really killing black writers? Are people killing any writers over the positions they take? In my Brooklyn neighborhood, Martin Amis lived a few blocks away. Jonathan Safran Foer lives in Brooklyn. So does Jhumpa Lahiri. Manhattan is stuffed to the gills with writers and media people much more famous than TNC. It’s hard to understand how he fears for his safety. If anybody is going to shoot Ta-Nehisi Coates in Brooklyn, it’s going to be over his wallet, not his politics. …

The idea that white hoodlums who hate his racial politics might find their way to the Coates manor in gentrified Flatbush in 2016 and set upon the prophetic and beloved black MacArthur Genius to pay him back for winning the National Book Award for his … well, it’s more than a little self-important and delusional.

Right. Because leaders in the American black community have never been assassinated.

Jesus, the man feels threatened. Isn’t that enough? He feels legitimately unsafe, so much so that he’s walking away from a purchase that meant a lot to him. That action ought to speak for itself. I just hope he manages to buy something else he likes here and doesn’t feel so disillusioned that he takes his brilliance to Paris forever.

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