Thursday, October 19, 2017

An open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates.


I have just finished reading the self-indulgent exercise in question-begging that ran in the Atlantic under the tantalizing heading, "The First White President." Tautology from a-z. And you don't see it, do you? You can't see it. So blurred are the paranoiac lenses through which you regard American life that you see only in caricature; distorted allegory. You inhabit a grim world of dog whistles and racial code, implicit bias and all manner of invisible slights or slanders. You basically imply that Donald Trump won because the mass of white Americans, when at home, strut around in Klan garb, secretly fantasizing about the perfect tall oak from which to lynch their black coworkers. (I may be overstating for effect, but your piece is only slightly less scurrilous and disgusting in its characterizations.) In fact, Trump won because of the phenomenon your piece epitomizes: Good, hard-working people are sick of being labeled racists, misogynists, deplorables; sick of being told they're “angry because they're losing their power.” They're angry because of the ceaseless repetition of that trope. The Trump vote was a counter-punch from decent Americans who resent being scapegoatedAmericans (overwhelmingly) without malice in their hearts who tired of being called ugly names for doing nothing more sinister than living their daily lives and/or, at worst, voicing an impolitic point of view now and then. They reject the notion that the accident of having been born white constitutes a sinful privilege for which they're obliged to apologize* (even as they're being laid off from their jobs or having their homes foreclosed, perhaps). And speaking of privilege, they bristle at the suggestion that someone who commits a violent crime or otherwise fails at life should enjoy the privilege of invoking his great-great-grandfather's infelicitous circumstances as a defense. Many of these decent folks never accepted excuses from their children and will be damned if they'll accept them from grown men and women. That is not bigotry, sir, but rather a philosophy of self-sufficiency/personal responsibility...a philosophy that happens to be embraced/espoused by any number of prominent blacks...who are also called ugly names for their trouble. (See under Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Ward Connerly, Larry Elder, Morgan Freeman and many others.)

So those voters began thinking tribally, the one identifying characteristic of the tribe being not whiteness per se but disgust with the blanket recriminations spewed into America nightly by CNN's punditry panels. And their disgust was such that they flocked to a dismal excuse for a man like Donald Trump, who, for all his personal and political shortcomings, defended them against gratuitous attack.

"The word racism is like ketchup...It can be put on anything..." Thomas Sowell
And by the way, what of the 93% of blacks who voted for Obama? (As did I, FYI.) Did they do so because they found his views on NAFTA energizing? Or was something a bit more superficialepidermalin play? 

You have become a sesquipedalian Sharpton, the quintessence of race-baiting, and Literary America enables you. If you keep it up you'll help re-elect the man, God help us all. Please talk to someone outside your bubble of hurt and projected rage. If you won't do it for me, do it for Samori's sake. You are poisoning the mind of your boy, who came into this world as an innocent and did not need to be steeped in your reductivist racial nihilism. Give him a chance to find his own way in life without making him wear the mantle of the victim that he neither was nor ever was meant to be. Damn it, man. Stop this.

* or pay reparations, as you've also argued.


whistle said...

Good god. I could not make it through that whole piece. Did Coates actually say/imply that "cuckold" specifically means a man whose white wife sleeps with a black man? Or did I misread that?

Anyway, thanks for making the points you make, Steve.

As a non-Republican, non-Trump voter, I'm really sick of the media making me want to defend Trump (and, as you say, making it even more likely he will be re-elected).

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Whistle, and that's why I thought long and hard about whether I should even link the piece. I worry about readers' blood pressure. The most remarkable thing to me is that he has become an absolute darling of the literati--recently feted with a MacArthur Genius Grant (which I believe exceeds $600K)--and I never see anyone take the man to task for being a race-baiter and in some senses, I dare say, an outright racist. Of course, Ta-Nehisi is of that camp that argues that it's impossible for blacks to be racist, because they're on the wrong side of the power equation. The whole thing is just absurd IMO.

whistle said...

Well, there are some others taking him to task.

Coates talk starts around the 14 minute mark.

whistle said...

Well, there are some others taking him to task.

Coates talk starts around the 14 minute mark.

(I may have accidentally put this comment thru twice, so please delete if so.)

Steve Salerno said...

I've actually seen this, Whistle. I devour all of their segments. Been a McWhorter fan since forever. But see, they're two black dudes doing a nichey podcast so they don't count. They're, dare I say it, "toms." Like the guys I list in my post.

When I start seeing people in the mainstream take him on, that'll be a different matter. Or when I see the Atlantic commission a rebuttal piece. (I've pitched it.) He's untouchable right now, and I mean that in the sense of invulnerability, not in the sense of the poor souls in Calcutta.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

I did try post a comment before but I don't see it up so will try again.

I wanted to know (from an outsiders point of view) if you thought that Ta-Nihisi Coates has his statistics incorrect or his facts about the historical record of redlining neighbourhoods etc. Is it his interpretation that's incorrect?

I wonder if there is a middle way between nothing being about racism and everything being about racism? Otherwise it seems we shall have no peace....


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner, to be clear, no, I do not think Coates is wrong in all of his facts. He has done a ton of research. Admirably so. I do think he has a terrible case of confirmation bias, wherein he interprets each new set of facts/stats/anecdotes through one possible lens only, and it's the lens that reveals all of American life as shaped and ruled by racism as well as white gains made on the backs of powerless blacks. It's like the old logical canard involving the Corvette. One year there was a report on the number of vehicular fatalities associated with various types of cars, and the Corvette led the pack. Ergo the Vette was a "dangerous car." Totally discounted in this analysis was the role of the driver or the "nut behind the wheel," as the old saying goes. Maybe there was something about Corvette drivers that made them take absurd risks; maybe there was something about Corvette advertising that attracted certain types of buyers and encouraged reckless behavior. Etc. Or maybe not. Maybe the car itself had something to do with it. Point is, from that limited info, you simply can't know.

Of course there is still racism in American society. Only an idiot (with an agenda of his own) would deny this. But Coates is guilty of so many leaps of logic/faith, and he discounts/ignores so much contrary evidence, that it's clear to me that he began with an agenda, to prove a preconceived point of view, and that's what all of his writing does.