The Washington Post might lament the rise of extremism in politics, of bitterness and incivility, that our politics are “broken.” If they really meant that, then why promote Ta-Nehisi Coates?
There he is, on the front of Thursday’s Style section, being honored for a huge article in The Atlantic magazine demanding black Americans get reparations from white Americans for ancient sins that happened long before today’s Americans of all colors were born. He’s bitter, he’s extreme, and he has a racial animus. And the Post loves him for it.
The headline was “A VOICE UNBOUND: With a provocative argument for reparations to black Americans, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates becomes a force in the debate over the enduring impact of racism.” The headline was huge and bold.
Inside, on C-3 over a large picture is the headline “Ta-Nehisi Coates, unafraid to take a stand.”
Under the picture is a pull quote from James Bennet, a former New York Times reporter who now edits The Atlantic: “Ta-Nehisi is amazing in the way he thinks out loud and invites people in,” says James Bennet, the Atlantic’s editor in chief. “He’s carrying out his extraordinary intellectual development in public.”
The Coates thesis is simple. “America was built on the preferential treatment of white people,” he writes. “Today progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything.” Coates thinks it explains asking for an ID at the polls, for one example.
Like many black radicals, Coates has a serious mental block that refuses to acknowledge any meaningful progress in race relations. Black president? Doesn’t mean anything. Black billionaires? Irrelevant. Black middle class? What black middle class?
Coates doesn’t want a post-racial society – he thrives on race – but a “post-racist” society, with “whiteness” destroyed:
So, then, what would it mean? Coates leans heavily back in his chair, thinks for a moment, then starts working through the logic out loud: “A post-racist society is a society where you really don’t have any white people. That’s the scary thing. . . . The idea of whiteness is tied to power. And the destruction of that power means the end of whiteness itself.”
Coates appears to echo — and add his unique take to — a strain of thinking about whiteness as a concept more closely knit to power and social status than actual skin color. It does not advocate actually doing away with white people but eliminating a construct that its adherents say was created by white Europeans to deny power to nonwhites.
The whole gooey valentine by Manuel Roig-Franzia is an exercise in vanity. His reparations lecture has no chance of becoming legislation. The whole story ends with Coates declaring he’s no legislator. By writing an overlong magazine article, “I’ve done my part,” he says.
The whole point is to honor the enormous “impact” and “intellectual development” of a man pushing a sterile tantrum of an idea:
For Ta-Nehisi Coates, “here” is bigger than a star turn on the stage of the Sixth and I Synagogue, where hundreds lined up down the block to hear him talk last week about his blockbuster Atlantic cover story making the case for slave reparations. No, here is a place of prominence in the stream of American thought, a perch that positions him as an ascendant public intellectual with a voice that stands out in the white noise of a wired and word-flooded era, an object of praise and a target.
At 38, Coates has already been a trenchant observer of America’s fraught relationship with race, both in his well-read Atlantic blog and in the printed magazine. But his exploration of reparations in this month’s Atlantic — a 16,000-word report that calls for a national “airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts” — has supercharged his profile. The piece, titled “The Case for Reparations,” intricately and provocatively traces the history of racism in the United States from slavery to recent examples of housing discrimination.
“To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying,” Coates writes....
In his article, Coates is unstinting, yet lyrical, in his criticism of the powerful forces of America’s past and the decision-makers and activists of its present. “Some black people always will be twice as good,” he reasons in the piece. “But they generally find white predation to be thrice as fast.”
The Post article offered one measly paragraph to note criticism “from the right,” about 28 words quoted from Kevin Williamson and David Frum. As usual, there is no acknowledgment that Coates or The Atlantic or the reparations concept come from the left.
On Twitter, the media elites were glowing. NPR anchor Michele Norris:
Scott Budman of NBC News:
Leftist Post critic Philip Kennicott:
Powerful @RoigFranzia profile of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Whiteness tied to power: "The destruction of that power means the end of whiteness...."— Philip Kennicott (@PhilipKennicott) June 19, 2014
Post feature writer Joe Heim:
And New York Times national correspondent John Schwartz: