Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Message To David Brooks And My Other Fellow White People

'Sup, Snowflake? Excuse me. Sorry.

Dear Mr. Brooks:

I couldn't help but notice you wrote an op-ed on the new Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me. Good for you! He's an important public intellectual. I thought his piece on the causes of the Civil War added to the cultural conversation about heritage.

Some of what he wrote about made you uncomfortable. You replied to him:

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.

It's rare that I feel like I'm anything approaching a Civil Rights expert - just using those words makes me feel silly - but I've heard this kind of argument from many of my fellow white people, and I can add something important here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates did not write his book specifically to you.

Did I make that clear enough? It might startle you, but it's really very simple. The book was structured as a series of letters to Coates's teenaged son. Not his teenaged son and middle-aged white men who write for the New York Times. When Ta-Nehisi Coates publishes an article in The Atlantic, do you ever get a call about it? Do you get a free copy in your email, maybe with parts that are annotated to make sure you get the references? No? I thought so.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is also not talking to you directly from your television when he's being interviewed. Not even if he looks at the camera. I know it's a weird effect. But there are other people watching.

This is important, because what you're doing is a common thing for my relatively privileged white friends. A person of color writes or says something bad about racism in America, and you immediately try to make it about you. In this instance you point out that there are plenty of good things about America, because that's totally the experience of America that you've had.

I get that. Believe me. I love America too. The porn here is amazing, for one thing. Also no, Ta-Nehisi Coates probably hasn't met every single person in America. I know he never met Abraham Lincoln, for example.  America is a big country.

More to the point: America is a big enough country to screw up Ta-Nehisi Coates's entire life and still give guys like you a pretty sweet ride.

You see how that works? If African Americans make up 13% of the population, we'd have enough people left over to rig the game completely so that their lives could be absolutely packed full of aggravating, heart-breaking, and sometimes lethal inequalities... and a white chap sitting in a corner office in Midtown Manhattan ordering up lattes and clacking out wisdom on the magic box would never ever know about it.

He's talking about how a whole system treats him. It doesn't actually personally concern you, which is a difficult concept to get if you're white, because if you're white you're used to the phenomenon where everything that personally concerns you becomes a matter of top political and economic priority. Like, you could get scared by some Muslims on the way to work one day and suddenly hundreds of thousands of Muslims all over the world are getting blown up in their homes until you settle down. This kind of thing makes white people have strange thoughts. Yes. Strange thoughts indeed, on what's fair and how the world ought to be. I'm sorry you got upset because you like America. And I'm sure, absolutely sure, the country seems pretty fair to you.

Anyway, I hope I cleared some of this up.

Peace out, Nilla.

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1 comment:

  1. I think Brooks is trying to repair the image of America in the eyes of the youth, because he realizes that he will soon be dependent on young people for his daily needs. Young people realize that Brooks' generation spent all its money, then spent their parents' money and their own generation's money, so many of them are exploring elder care solutions involving ice floes. Brooks is trying to do damage control. I can't see it working.


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