Ta-Nehisi Coates on How Money Turned Him Into a Snob

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Neil Drumming has been friends with Atlantic writer and author Ta-Nehisi Coates for 20 years—before Ta-Nehisi was the MacArthur Genius, National Book Award-winning person he is today, before he became a snob. Drumming talked to Coates for a This American Life story this week about how his old friend went from someone who had no problem with eating wings and burgers “pretty much the majority” of the time, to someone who now turns up his nose at that kind of common fast food in favor of fine dining. The short answer: money.

Coates: So what happened?

Drumming: This is the reason that you’re sitting here, as I’m asking you. OK, well, this is the question.

Coates: Well, I made more money, right?

Drumming: Yes.

Coates: That’s all it is.

Drumming: I mean, but—I mean, how much would you attribute it to that?

Coates: A lot.

Drumming: Yeah? Was that ever uncomfortable for you?

Coates: The money’s uncomfortable.

Drumming: Yeah.

Coates: The money’s uncomfortable. Um—why is the money uncomfortable? Because you have the money, but like, in your mind, you haven’t changed. Like you still rock a hoodie.

Drumming: Yeah, yeah.

Coates: The food is not uncomfortable. The food feels like some bringing to fruition of something that was always there.

Drumming: Mm.

Money has allowed Coates entry into an upscale gym with his own personal trainer (“which is snobbery,” he says), and has given him the ability to get his hair cut every week (“but is that a kind of snobbery?” he wonders). But it has not made him “bougie” which he describes as the type of person who cares about being seen with the right crowd and seen as being part of a certain status of society, which he says he doesn’t concern him.

“Snobbery, to me, is about, like, things,” Coates tells Drumming. “And not about people at all. In fact, it’s much worse than bougie.”

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