No. 86: Thoughts on David Brooks’ Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates

David Brooks published a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, Between the World and Me this morning. A few points stood out to me:

The last year has been an education for white people. There has been a depth, power and richness to the African-American conversation about Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and the other killings that has been humbling and instructive.

Whatever education white people have engaged over the last year must become an internal conversation on what to do based on the knowledge gained from this education. Toni Morrison does a nice job explaining the importance of white people having this conversation amongst themselves. I doubt the extent to which this education and conversation has taken place.

For you, slavery is the original American sin, from which there is no redemption. America is Egypt without the possibility of the Exodus. African-American men are caught in a crushing logic, determined by the past, from which there is no escape.

I don’t think Mr. Coates would agree. See The Case for Reparations:

An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

Mr. Brooks should give that piece another read. Again, I doubt the extent to which this education and conversation has taken place.

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.

I am distracted by this equating Lincoln and the Harlem Children’s Zone. You mean the Lincoln who thought it would be a good idea to ship the slaves back to Africa? He probably would have done well to dwell on Lincoln as a mixture of glory and shame a bit.

The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

See above quote from The Case for Reparations. I just don’t believe sins can be transcended. They need to be addressed and dealt with. And then you move forward.

Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change.

Nope. There has been plenty silence for centuries now. Talk. Ask the hard questions. Have the hard conversations amongst yourselves. Hopefully, after those hard conversations, we will be able to have a thorough conversation on how to move forward – together.

5 thoughts on “No. 86: Thoughts on David Brooks’ Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates

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