August 29, 2015


A BLACK HERO FOR GUILTY WHITES : Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me offers a disturbing insight into the new racialism. (Sean Collins, 8/28/15, spiked review of books)

One of the more disturbing aspects of Coates' perspective is how he, rather than seeking to overcome racial categories, effectively reinforces them. Whites are inauthentic; they 'think they are beyond the design flaws of humanity'. He walks the streets and sees 'white people spilled out of wine bars with sloshing glasses'. In contrast, black people are authentic; suffering as victims, but beautiful. He writes: 'The physical beauty of the black body was all our beauty, historical and cultural, incarnate.' Coates' constant reference to black bodies recalls the way that racist whites in the past reduced blacks to their physical features.

Coates' prism of race ultimately leads him to dehumanise people. On 9/11, he could 'see no difference' between the officer that shot his classmate Prince Jones, and the police and firefighters who lost their lives trying to save others. 'They were not human to me', he writes.

His mindset also results in him interpreting everyday events in racial terms - as what people today call 'microaggressions'.  In a revealing story, Coates tells of how, at a cinema in New York's Upper West Side (read: upper-class and liberal), a white woman pushed aside his toddler son who was blocking her way on the bottom of the down escalator, saying 'come on!'. Coates sees this as a racist act - the woman was 'pulling rank' and had 'invoked [her] right over the body of my son' - and yells at her. Maybe she was out of line, or maybe she was just a typically assertive New Yorker. 

He then spends pages having an imaginary argument with the woman, who he imagines would deny being a racist (because whites are 'obsessed with personal exoneration'). He goes on to liken her to anonymous lynchers in the South (I kid you not). As Rod Dreher writes, for Coates, 'the penny-ante rudeness of an old woman in the lobby of a Manhattan movie theatre is the showdown at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He connects the grumpy woman's action to Jim Crow and slavery.' And, in doing so, Coates actually minimises the severe injustices of the past.

The fawning, white-liberal praise of Coates is awkward. He is supposed to be, as Michelle Alexander put it in her review, someone who 'speaks unpopular, unconventional and sometimes even radical truths', and yet Coates' acclaim shows that his views are in fact popular and fairly conventional. Coates denounces white supremacy, says he has 'low expectations' of white people, and yet he owes much of his success to whites who lap up his every word. One can't help but be reminded of Tom Wolfe's 1970 essay 'Radical Chic' about Leonard Bernstein and other rich celebrities throwing a fundraising party for the Black Panthers. Once again, white liberals are seeking to expunge their guilt.

At the same time, there are a number of ways in which Coates is more a product of today's prejudices than a throwback to the days of Lenny and the Panthers. One thing that clearly unites Coates and his liberal admirers is a disdain for the masses - the 'Dreamers'. Behind the recent police killings, Coates sees the whites who elect racist politicians. 'The abuses that have followed from these policies - the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects - are the product of democratic will', he writes. 'The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs, but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.' Yes, that's right, he's calling the white masses 'pigs'. You can easily imagine the liberal elite nodding along to this, as it often complains about the majority, too - for not going along with their ideas about gun control, the doomsday scenarios of the climate-change catastrophists, or some other cause.

You can also see agreement between Coates and the liberal elite when it comes to hatred of the people who live in suburbs. Indeed, as Coates concludes in the final pages of his book, he launches into a bizarre green tirade about the 'seductiveness of cheap gasoline' to 'Dreamers'. Apparently, technology is to blame for both racism and environmental destruction: 'Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of the seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.' It is telling that Coates condemns economic growth, given that it is something that could potentially transform poor neighbourhoods and lessen racial tensions over scarce resources.

You can only sell his theories to Malthusians, and only liberal whites are Darwinists in America.

Posted by at August 29, 2015 7:17 AM

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