Monday, August 27, 2012

MUST READ: Coates' "Fear of a Black President"

One of my favorite bloggers, Ta-Nehisi Coates, has an astonishingly insightful (and well-written) essay about race, (American) politics and Barack Obama which is published in the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine under the title "Fear of a Black President."

The article is summarized at the top with a short paragraph:
As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin, slavery. But as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration.
The basic thesis of the piece is that Obama is another example of the common belief that minorities (or women) who are "the first" often have to be "twice as good" as their majoritarian counterparts, while simultaneously trying to appear only "half as different" from the dominant group already in the power structure.  It covers everything from public reactions to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident, the Katrina disaster, Republican recalcitrance and defiance to Obama's presidency, Joe Biden's own racist gaffe (remember when he called Obama "clean"?), America's long storied history of white supremacy, Skip Gates' run-in with a white police officer on his own front stoop and yet another fatal shooting of an innocent Black man that can be ascribed to the assumed guilt of dark skin. Powerful stuff.

Coates says that he worked on the piece for nine months and it shows. At times the writing is simply stunningly beautiful; it is complex, clear and humming with energetic ideas. To wit,
By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.
Now, that is a paragraph (almost) any teacher would be proud a student of theirs wrote. Congratulations, Ta-Nehisi!

The rest of y'all go read the piece in its entirety for yourself. Right now!

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