So far the most surprising, beautiful sentence in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power. It’s about his wife and part of one of the meta-essays that introduce his previously published essays in this collection. Some have aged better than others, but the meta-essays alone are worth the read alone. Man, that guy can write.
This year’s National Book Award finalist Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild about tea party supporters in Louisiana, and last year’s winner Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Between the World and Me is perhaps teh best book I’Ve read in the last five years, I might just reread Coates open letter about the Black condition, and I’ll add Strangers In Their Own Land to my to-read list.
The case against Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” is a triumph of style over substance, of clamorous white grievance over knowable facts.
This is what Andrew Breitbart, and his progeny, ultimately understood. What Shirley Sherrod did or did not do really didn’t matter. White racial grievance enjoys automatic credibility, and even when disproven, it is never disqualifying of its bearers.
My answer has been characterized, in various places, as an “endorsement,” a characterization that I’d object to. Despite my very obvious political biases, I’ve never felt it was really my job to get people to agree with me. My first duty, as a writer, is to myself. In that sense I simply hope to ask all the questions that keep me up at night. My second duty is to my readers. In that sense, I hope to make readers understand why those questions are critical. I don’t so much hope that any reader “agrees” with me, as I hope to haunt them, to trouble their sense of how things actually are.
Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on the current debate surrounding buildings named after President Woodrow Wilson in Princeton, and gives an example why the former President was a “racist pig.”
Coates, possibly the most important writer at this moment in America, wrote a long letter to his son about growing up and being Black:
“I knew that my portion of the American galaxy, where bodies were enslaved by a tenacious gravity, was black and that the other, liberated portion was not. I knew that some inscrutable energy preserved the breach. I felt, but did not yet understand, the relation between that other world and me. And I felt in this a cosmic injustice, a profound cruelty, which infused an abiding, irrepressible desire to unshackle my body and achieve the velocity of escape.”
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
A great quote by Maya Angelou, that in face of the discussion around Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, the misogynist shooting in Isla Vista, and the electoral success of several rightwing-extremist patries in Europe is a relevant as ever.
Sadly, Dr. Maya Angelou passed away. Her writing will live forever. She was 86 years old.
Words exist within the realm of politics. In politics, words are sometimes perverted by the speaker. It’s worth considering which words come under attack for perversion (“racist,”; “homophobe,”; “bigot”) and which do not (“democratic,”; “bipartisan,”; “anti-American”). I am always skeptical of people who seek to curtail their use, instead of interrogating their specific usage. Some people really are racists, and other people really are misogynists, and others still actually are homophobes. Instead of prohibiting words, I’d rather better understand their meaning.
Coates uses the ridiculous “accusing someone of racism is the worst thing you can do in this country” claim (“perversion” in the quote above) as a starting point and moves on to recap Anne Applebaum’s arguments about the word “totalitarian” from her book Iron Curtain: The Crushing Of Eastern Europe. Like most Ta-Nehisi Coates texts, I can highly recommend it.
I came up in a time when white intellectuals were forever making breathless pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated lists like “Geniuses of Western Music” written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist.
Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere; the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist; the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance. The machinery of racism requires no bigotry from Dylan Byers. It merely requires that Dylan Byers sit still.
We suffer for this. So many people charged with informing us, with informing themselves, are just sitting still.
Coates comments further on Dylan Byers vehemently refusing to see Melissa Harris-Perry as a public intellectual. Byers’ stance is a textbook example of gate-keeping and of the centrality of white men in the canon.
It should come as no surprise that Victor Davis Hanson’s generational advice has met with mixed results. But when you are more interested in a kind of bigoted nationalism than your actual safety, this is what happens.
Victor Davis Hanson, writing for the National Review, “countered” President Obama’s speech last week, specifically the passage on The Talk African-American parents have to give their kids, with a narration of the Talk he received and gave: Stay away from Young Black Men.
Ta-Nehisi Coates breaks down how that Talk doesn’t actually make anyone safer (not even in Hanson’s personal examples) and is, quite frankly, stupid. And racist.