The great Ta-Nehasi Coates has a new book out, maybe you’ve heard of it because it’s burning up like the new James Baldwin novel probably did in the 50s. Coates’s brutal honesty about his black experience in America is and should be a bracing slap in the face of white privilege. Coming as it does in the wake of Ferguson, Garner, SC, etc. that face of white privilege is pretty red and raw.
David Brooks is tired of being smacked around and has an answer that reminds me of Dave Attell’s joke about how a woman who walked into the room with a black eye must not be a good listener.* Brooks is only going to get smacked harder with this response that is just dripping with white privilege and is the kind of tone deaf condescension that even white people will want to smack him.
Brooks’s whole shtick has been to defend the white suburban middle class as the backbone of America and the well manicured lawn, a barbecue and a two SUV garage as the God-given right of the great upstanding moral center of the universe. Coates sets Brooks’s suburban idyll on fire by asserting the really quite uncontroversial idea that white America’s wealth is largely based on the backs of the people the Homeowner’s Association will not allow to purchase in Brooks’s neighborhood.
I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.
A “Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis” shows such a shallow understanding of history you want to smack the NYT around for giving Brooks the space to write it. As if Lincoln was a great defender of the black race rather than the guy who was president when the South finally seceded and threatened the union. Give Lincoln his props but his attitude towards the black race was typical of his time – he may have felt slavery a moral abomination but he didn’t believe for a second the black and white races were in any way equal.
Does the Harlem Children’s Zone really equate the KKK in any way, shape or form. Is Brooks saying, one’s good for black people and one’s bad for black people and that’s balance?
*Of course abuse is not funny. The joke presupposes we understand that Attell’s understanding of women is quite cro-magnon-like.