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Ta-Nehisi Coates eviscerates another career "progressive"

Read the whole thing. Here's the conclusion:

Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past whose historical vestiges still afflict black people today. They believe we need policies--though not race-specific policies--which address the affliction. I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust.

There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are.

So, while trivial by the side of the American historical experience:

1) It sure is weird to be deferred to, physically deferred to -- not in some "smartest guy in the room" mode, but with people physically lowering themselves -- in Thailand because I'm tall, male, white, and older (a four-fer, here). It really throws privilege into sharp relief, exactly because I'm not "used to" it (although of course in other guises, I'm so used to it I can't see it).

2) I just got back from a fourteen-hour each way train trip to the South -- the South of Thailand -- for which I needed some long books to read, and so had gotten a couple of volumes of Game of Thrones to read. Reiterating that I know this is trivial: Although feudalism is pretty bad, slavery looks like it's a million times worse. I encountered the word "coffle" in GoT on this trip, and thanks to Ned Sublette's email list, now I know what it means. In the same way that all Germans anywhere near a death camp had to know what was going on, because of the smoke and the smell, so all Americans in slave states had to know what slavery was all about, because slave sellers were constantly marching chained together gangs of slaves ("coffles") to market, along the public roads. Fortunately (?) death camps and coffles are no longer (?) "normal" (to use Coates's word). "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

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MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

My dear friend Ned writes what would be one of the best blogs In the universe, if only he would blog the damn thing. But he prefers to do it privately, under the radar. So in order to read his writing on everything from Cuba (he's a musician, musicologist, and initiated Santero) to slavery, to injustice and New Orleans, you have to join his email list. Do it now.

Bonus: he's a terrific compiler of must-read articles, and usually prints them full text in his emails, for easy reading.

Submitted by lambert on

... since 2003. That means we have a massive back catalog. It also means that just because somebody hasn't shown up for a year or two (not the case with MsExPat) that doesn't mean they're "new"! "New" is relative to the age of the blog!

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...young age. My earliest recollection was in second grade in Locust Valley, N.Y. My teacher, Mrs. Browning, slapped Albert across the face in front of the whole class for talking back. He was right, but so what. And he was my friend. That was in the early 50's.
America is a racist country and no amount of bullshit can deny that fact.
The sooner "we" (I'm not sure who "we" is/are) wake up and face that fact; the sooner we can deal with racism.
But, not gonna happen! It's not part of the agenda.
America is a WASP nation and will remain so for the foreseeable future no matter what you think or do.
That's just the way it is...

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

Could you be a bit less obtuse? What camp?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

may seem to those who have been in residence for a while as just another on point challenge in one of the off and on, long running debates around here. Because I participated in it, I remember this particular post and thread, for instance.

Submitted by hipparchia on

I was actually referring to this:

And since black Americans are disproportionately part of the working class, then a redistributive program that secures and advances the interest of working-class people will disproportionately benefit black people.

There aren't any planks on identity politics in the 12 Point Platform for exactly this reason.

reed is correct in that redistribution based solely on socioeconomic class will help black people, but coates is more correct in stating that unless racism is also reined in, then that redistribution will disproportionately benefit whites at the expense of blacks. (actually he goes even further, saying that racism is never going to disappear).

Submitted by lambert on

... than post-Civil Rights era identify politics have done. Look at outcomes: Numbers in jail, unemployment. Those are policy outcomes, achieved by both parties working together, and that most definitely includes the Democratic nomenklatura. See End the Wars for the first, and see Jobs Guarantee and Income for the second.

I have no doubt that "progressives" will scream "racist" at all this, just as they did in 2008, exactly as viciously and with just as much truth. (Actually, if Clinton runs, they'll scream "sexist," dittoes.) They have to, since that's all they got.

Since, apparently, we're all agreed racism is ineradicable, how about we try something new?

UPDATE Adding, I don't know what "rein in" means. Concrete proposal?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Which reads in part:

"Some commentator said, "Resentment abhors a vacuum," and I think that is exactly right. We need to tell people who's at fault, who's doing this and that means that liberals need to reclaim a liberal mantle that says, not only, "We need to pull government back onto the side of the middle class," but we need to understand that concentrated wealth is working actively to take government over so that it serves them and rigs the game in their favor. So one thing we need to do, we need to tell people who's really at fault for an economy that now showers incredible wealth on the very wealthy but is really bad for the rest of us.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

I remain in the camp I was in prior to reading this latest Coates' iteration of, "I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust."

There are, at least, two camps made up of loyal Democrats when it comes to race, the post WWII liberal camp whose leadership took head on the issue of White Supremacy and decades after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act remain in the same agitated state regarding race relations in this country. Scratch that, today it is the heirs of that post WWII anti White Supremacist tradition who remain in the same agitated state of those who preceded them, those largely ignorant that a dramatically new reality has evolved since the '60s and their savvier fellow campers who find it useful to play dumb about the changed state of things and fling out a term like "White Supremacy" when talking about today's America on the heels of talking about antebellum slavery and Jim Crow.

Then there is the neo-liberal Democratic camp with its approach to race, the one Coates was lambasting, a kinder gentler version of which Michael J. Smith at his blog Stop Me Before I Vote Again looks in on:

This note of self-congratulation, mixed with censure for everybody else, booms like a basso ostinato through a recent talking-to [Michelle Obama] gave to a hapless captive audience of Washington teenagers, at a facility oddly called the Bell Multicultural High School (as opposed to a monocultural high school?)....

Here’s a sample of her treacle-and-brimstone style:

I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story…The details might be a little different, but so many of the challenges and triumphs will be just the same….

I couldn’t afford to go on a bunch of college visits, I couldn’t hire a personal tutor. I couldn’t enroll in SAT prep classes. We didn’t have the money.

… Some of my teachers straight-up told me that I was setting my sights too high,” she continued. “They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton…. [Once there,] There were times when I felt that I could barely keep my head above water.

She terrorized her audience with the usual dismal forecasts: by 2050 a PhD will be required to run a cash register at Wal-Mart, etc. etc.

My story can be your story. Every one of those kids at the Bell Multicultural Indoctrination And Prison Prep Center can, and should, come to live in the White House. All at the same time, in fact, having all graduated from Princeton in the same class and with the same GPA, all tied for valedictorian....

I see myself as among a group of campers who are not necessarily loyal Democrats and who see ourselves as representing a viable American version of an actual left. Here in two thousand and fourteen I don't think it's racism that explains the political powerlessness of the underclass, which includes the working poor and the long-term unemployed, nor that being born into or falling into the underclass is becoming more and more an inescapable inter-generational trap, nor that the percentage of the population making up the underclass is growing.

I think what's going on is class war and those who aspire to be in the labor class and those who might fairly describe themselves as being in the labor class should be making common cause with one another, with a stress on the term common cause.

Rainbow Girl's picture
Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

I could not agree more. You articulated my thinking far better than I could have. Identity-focused politics and politicians, whatever their stripe, obstruct the realization of the deepest common affiliation and interests. They obscure the reality that we live in a class based society and that we are in a class war.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...and I have little to no disagreement your POV.
Class war is a reality, but I do think racism has and will always be present. Racism is almost a universal human condition which has many expressions, depending on cultural mores and norms.
But in my experience there is something exceptional regarding the U.S. expressions of racist actions.
I can only control my own feelings and actions and further, make it clear where I stand. In all the years of witnessing and speaking up, I can't honestly say I have ever changed anybodies mind or opinion on this subject.
I liked your closing paragraph...

PunchnRun's picture
Submitted by PunchnRun on

Gotta toss a bit of fuel into the flames, even though I'm not up on the writings and references some bring up here. The point that we are all "racists" cannot be made too often, but it is so often misunderstood that I fear it is not all that helpful without considerable exploration. To start with, we are working with an information processing system (ie a brain) that does not work the way we usually assume it does, and that does things far beneath our awareness that have profound effects on what we perceive and understand. We are racists because we are classist. That is, we devote a lot of mental machinery to looking for ways to pigeonhole the things we see. It is just how we are wired. It simplifies the world and thus makes it possible to deal with what is in reality an infinite set of event and factors. It is only with great effort that we fight that off long enough to recognize that those not in our immediate tribe or family are also potentially in our group and could be on our side, and should be treated in some way other than as an object to be exploited. Sadly, many are unsuccessful in that, or make no such effort.

I must also observe that while the US outlawed chattel slavery as of the end of the Civil War in about 1865, there are other countries which did not do so until years later, some not at all. It occurs to me to ask if the US is truly that unique in its treatment of former slave classes, and if so, why. For that matter, who is considered white and why? And further, what might affect might we see with the coming demographic changes in the US population?

I'm seeing that either American exceptionalism works in many ways, or else it doesn't work at all.

As to changing somebodies mind or opinion, it often frustrates me that I feel so powerless and my arguments feel so futile, but then I realize that the only mind that I could ever change is my own.

Submitted by hipparchia on

with a stress on the term common cause

well sure! no disagreement from me. :)

then again, about the only common cause that (non-rich) straight white dudes have in common with black people, brown people, queer people, female people, native American people, _______ people is class war and economic populism, with maybe government spying thrown in.

nobody expects the straight white dudes to actually care about racism, sexism, abortion, stop and frisk, redlining, voter id, stand your ground, etc, etc, etc, but the people whose lives are affected by racism, sexism, etcetcetc are going to vote for the candidates and join the organizations and put their energy into the movements that do promise to fix these non-straight-white-dude-centric problems.

and the straight white dudes are going to continue to opine (or whine) that these aren't the real problems.

Submitted by lambert on

or your distortions, or your insults, or your particular style of economy with the truth. People can check the posts, after all. And you'll get concrete material benefits if the 12-Point ideas work out, and so that will make us both happy.

What I do care about is that the strategies shibboleths you espouse have ended up doing terrible damage to the very people you claim to be defending. So you want to keep on doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Good luck with that.

UPDATE For example: How on earth a Jobs Guarantee/Income Guarantee is a "straight white dude" problem or solution is beyond comprehension -- especially for one who looks back with nostalgia to FDR's (racist) New Deal. Your comments, to me, show the utter bankruptcy, intellectual, political, and moral, of identity politics -- as does your rage and hate -- as shown in your comments -- when alternatives are proposed. Thank you. I'm very glad all this has been brought out so clearly. It's good data and good preparation for what will happen when we encounter people who practice identity politics professionally.

Submitted by lambert on

A real asset, with portfolio managers and everything. It persists not only because humans are highly imperfect morally, but because it's useful, and especially useful to people in positions of power and wealth, who fund it, and encourage it.

Submitted by lambert on

I think Coates is right on the history and the "progressives" are wrong. But because I agree with Coates on the history doesn't say anything about policy, one way or the other.

I think that the identity-based politics that Democrats have adopted for the last 40 years have been a disaster for the left and more importantly a disaster for, well, those who don't own the means of production, which is well over 80% of all Americans, who the Democrats still pretend to defend. I also feel that Coates is wrong to say "not race-specific policies." The way to Democrats seem to conceive of their electoral coalition is as a vertical bundle of identities -- Hispanics, Blacks, "the youth," the creative class -- and so there are specific "policies" for all the verticals by definition, and one of the verticals is most definitely race. (That's not to imply that blacks get concrete material benefits from Obama's policies, but polices there are.)

And if one wishes to see the magnitude of the disaster that identity politics has brought about, one only has to look at the Obama administration. A lot of "progressives" seem to have though Obama has to be liberal because of his skin color.

One thing that's been brought home to me very forcefully in Thailand is that some (many) in the political class consider hate as an asset to be managed as assets are managed. That probably has something to do with the fail of identity politics, but I don't know what.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on least in the conventional sense, is whats going on in the politic. Yes, hate is an asset and managed adroitly. Class is at the core of what's going on here.
I'll refrain from going further for obvious reasons.
As to racism in America? It's a world problem and as natural as rain. Humans always are leery of "other", but that doesn't account for the hatred.
As stated elsewhere I've been around it all of my life, in a conscious way, and I have come to think there is no solution outside of oneself.
Amy Goodman had an excellent show on Monday about this very subject;

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...and I would venture America's exceptionalism isn't working, much at all.
One can only fool some of the people most of the time; but not all of the time.
There is so little time left for the American people to act; but history would deem they will not.
So the game will continue albeit, differently...

Submitted by lambert on

Frankly, at this point, the back catalog is so damn big I can't remember it all, and forget about gems like this one.

I wonder if Avedon linked to this and I got it from her?

Submitted by lambert on

Surely American has invented some fucked-up things all on its own?