Re: Ch. 8: NOTES FROM THE EIGHTH YEAR - MY PRESIDENT WAS BLACK
I thought Coates made his case fairly effectively. I don't think he is arguing that America is thoroughly racist - he knows Obama could not have been elected in a country that acted like the South of 1960, or even 1970. But he is insisting that we not pretend racism is no longer a factor needing to be actively opposed, just because we managed to elect Obama. He is peeking behind the curtains of white defensiveness, the pretense that everything is fair because we no longer viciously oppress black people. The very fact that many white people still feel defensive indicates that they know how unfair things used to be and want desperately not to have that system associated with their own identity. Those of us who study economics find that pretense impossible.
It is certainly true that 2016 was a weird election in the extreme - even Ross Perot and 1992 or the similarly desperate 1980 election do not compare in their weirdness. But to be unable to see white identity politics (and male identity politics, as well as anti-feminism by women) at work is a deliberate act of putting our head in the sand. It may feel better in reducing the experience of guilt, but it does not give us a clearer picture of how our country works.
I don't see it. President Trump is far and away the worst specimen of a human being ever to get as far as the White House. He combines the faults of Reagan, Bush II and Bill Clinton with none of their redeeming features. I am not blind to the faults of Hillary Clinton, either, but I do not see objectivity in the claims of rough equivalence between the two.
To me the political decline is the larger picture, that I would agree with. A huge group of Americans who perceive some kind of personal threat in health care for all, who are willing to set aside all pretense of fairness and rule of law to guard their power, who project their fears about sexual immorality on to the issue of abortion rights, and most telling of all, who willfully refuse to engage the issue of our times, which is climate change and how we are causing it, these are signs of a very sick society. The decline is not in our vindictive selfishness or our defensive battle for ignorance: those have been there all along. The decline is in our willingness to hand over power to manipulators who exploit political anxieties to guard their income and their privilege. The institutions are in worse shape than they have been since we turned back a similar tide of authoritarianism at the battle of Watergate.
No, I don't think that is accurate. He regularly acknowledges that other factors also matter, but tends to see their evocation as a smokescreen for white innocence so racism can be downplayed.
His subject is race, and people who are vulnerable on an issue are much more likely to recognize the role race is playing. Maybe you think that there is nothing odd about the difference between the response to crack cocaine and the response to opioids? Maybe you think the Willie Horton campaign succeeded for reasons race played no role in? Maybe you think a black man could have run for president claiming to grab women's pussies and been elected? Let's be honest, shall we? There is a dynamic of looking the other way at work. And that deliberate turning away is Coates' topic.
I am regularly disturbed by the insistence by white people that racism "just" means preference for one's own race. Among the academics, they would be quick to argue that racism "means" the oppression of people of color by white people, a system in which the best education, the best jobs, and the best social contacts are reserved (or at least given preferentially) for whites. Nobody with even a little bit of honesty believes there is a system reserving the best for black people in America.
Now I don't really care what term is used. Maybe you have a better term to suggest for the system which means that black men have to be incredibly scrupulous about what they do with their hands in the presence of police (but white men don't), that black men have to be twice as qualified as a white man to get a regular job, that black homebuyers are steered to "your people" if they want to live in a nice neighborhood with good schools, that many young black boys have no familiarity with black men who have good jobs, and in which a large part of one of America's two main parties conducts a guerrilla war against the legitimacy of a president because he is black?
Even black people participate in that system, as Coates notes in a couple of places. So this is not a matter of favoring one's own group, it is a matter of shaping perceptions of status according to the race of the person whose status is being attributed. Of maintaining "white is right, if you're black, get back" in ways that hide in the shadows and rely on most whites to go along because it isn't their status being threatened. And it is the enemy of freedom in America. It is the force even now acting to undermine our democratic system for the sake of maintaining its own privilege. It is a very deep sickness that white people prefer not to see because symbolically it favors white people (even while threatening everything they claim to hold dear about being American). We tolerated it in the overt form for centuries - why would anyone be surprised that we refuse to see that it is still in covert operation?