Saturday, July 18, 2015

David Brooks to Ta-Nehisi Coates: But Some Whites Are Nice to Black People!

David Brooks is quite nearly the perfect conservative pundit, not because of himself but because of all the others. He can appear thoughtful and reasonable even when his reasoning is quite suspect, which is most of the time. How can you get angry at someone so thoughtful?

Pretty easily, actually. He's been staying above the fray for months and months now because, frankly, it's hard to talk policy when it's being dominated by clown-car occupants, tea-party nutjobs, and, well, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, both of whom are defining the New Horrible with alacrity and zest.

I can't say as I blame him, except that his new schtick is at once badly reasoned, caramel-like, and replete with his usually sophistry. Okay, I've trashed him as per usual. So, it's on to his engagement with Ta-Nehisi Coates and his new book.

I'll let you read the piece and evaluate it for yourself. But here's my take at Brooks' stab at being relevant on the status of blacks in America vis a vis whites and the American Dream.
  • Coates vividly describes the inescapable oppression all American blacks endure, and he's pissed at the white establishment that historically created and then maintained that oppression right up to this very day. His book is his message to his son about their common heritage of disprivilege as far as the eye can see (if that's a word, but you get what I mean). Coates is not hopeful, let's put it that way.
  • I feel he's right and spot-on. I've watched this for as long as I can remember, feel my own unending participation or at least acquiescence in the world of the white elite, even as I grew up in an ordinary middle-class family. I, by the way, generally wanted for nothing even if my life was not awash in affluence.
  • The blacks don't get that, far from it. They get the cold shoulder, if not the back of the hand.
  • Brooks sees that and is suitably chagrined, humbled. But then he does his "Hey, but it's not that bad! C'mon!" Sheesh.
  • The American Dream is okay because here and there there's a good white person who works hard and hopes that blacks -- that don't live in his neighborhood, but still -- get the same opportunities as he has.
  • In other words, Coates should chill because some whites are nice to blacks! Really!
  • Sorry, Brooks, it doesn't work that way. Sure, Coates is a successful writer and a respected intellectual, but he's still much more likely to get gunned down by a cop, and he's right to fear for his son. Why? Because it's inescapable.
So, yes, shut up, Brooks. You've answered your own question. You can't say, chill, Ta-Nehisi, because you're deeply engulfed in the corrupt world of racism that oppresses the American black, and saying green shoots, it's getting better, here and there, just wait, the world will be a better place... Oh, brother.

Here's a comment on the column that sums up Coates' problem:
I don't think you should be as apologetic about America as you are. You and we in Britain were deep sinners in slavery, but we also exerted our power at its peak to rid the world of it, and let's recall that it was a fight that others resisted for a long time, including in Africa. What's more, Coates sounds unhelpfully self-centred. The idea that the country was built on black bones seems to assume a history of luxurious suburbs occupied by lazy white people bullying the black people doing the real work. That would have come as a surprise to the Irish who dug the Erie Canal, the dust bowl farmers, the poor European men of the northern shanty towns, the Chinese railway workers, to millions of factory workers, to successive generations of the lower east side, and what's more to the idea that the amazing record of American professional, technical, and business history is a record of hard work. The suffering of American black males is real and it does need addressing, but Coates's self-absorption sounds extreme. He is right to insist on justice. You should feel free to insist on truth.
 Horrifying. The man can be forgiven a bit because he's a Brit and is immersed in his own sphere of privilege and may be unaware of the American blacks' milieu. But, sorry, man from across the pond: Coates is self-absorbed because his blackness is visible, in a frightening sense and in ways nothing like our world of whiteness. We shine. He fears. And we did it, and no amount of "yes, but we banned slavery, so we're good guys, too!" can change that.

It doesn't work that way. Chris Rock said something like "You were horrible to us for 300 years, and now you're going to be nice! Bygones!"

It doesn't work that way, Brooks, and you should know better. The fact that you don't speaks volumes.

And one thing to your commenter that should be obvious but wasn't: You talk about "the Irish who dug the Erie Canal, the dust bowl farmers, the poor European men of the northern shanty towns, the Chinese railway workers, to millions of factory workers, to successive generations of the lower east side," but what you miss is that today the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Jews are fully accepted into the world of privilege and opportunity. Even the Chinese fill the ranks of the professional class, and when they move in next door, we don't bat an eye.

Blacks are still standing at the gate. Some have entered, but the pain, oppression, and fear endure.

Right now, in 2015, cops are still killing black people. No wonder
blacks are pissed and Ta-Nehisi Coates is not dancing in the streets.

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