Friday, July 17, 2015

Brooks on Coates

Result of Googling "courageous white people". Via Trend-Hunter.

I really feel like giving David Brooks a break for his brave effort to tell people how it feels to be a white person reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me ("Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White"). It's right up there with Fredrik De Boer ("what white people talk about when we talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates", a bit more successful than an earlier effort) as a searing account of a kind of experience that few are willing to explore.

No, seriously, he's very respectful, and manages to trot out the word "privilege" almost like one of us:

Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?
I haven't read the book yet (sorry! I just bought it, though), but as far as I can tell from reading about it, this is just a big category error. It isn't a thesis with conclusions anybody can evaluate (like the great reparations essay which I briefly cited here). It's the communication of an experience, a letter from a man to his son, that we are permitted to read because we might learn something. What exactly would anybody white or black be "disagreeing" with? Whether Coates has had, in fact, the experiences he claims to have had? Whether his beliefs are or aren't things he believes? "No, speaking as a white person, I can't accept that you really feel the way you do."  "I totally respect Mr. Keats's experience, but heard melodies are definitely sweeter than unheard ones."

If you respect the experience, you accept that it is an experience. And try to have the experience yourself, as well as you can. If you want to criticize it, you can try criticizing the way he communicates it, or cast doubt on the authenticity of the experience if you dare. Speaking as a white person, I'm not going there.

Speaking of criticizing how somebody communicates it,
If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.
I beg your pardon? How do you say that in English? I'm guessing you want to say Coates "argues" that "some guy" is right to commit a crime because "legacy of lynching" but you're scared to tell a lie that bald so your syntax knots up like your stomach when you want to insult the boss.
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.
Your math is off, as usual. There's really only one Lincoln. There was only one president of the Confederate States of America, but that's because it only lasted four years. There are tens of thousands of Jefferson Davises, pinch-lipped self-righteous beam-in-the-eye racists in positions of power, all over the country. There's pretty clearly only one Harlem Children's Zone, and there's no evidence that you need anything that broad to achieve its results or that it can be successfully replicated; KKK chapters at one time and another have replicated like crazy (and not just in the South), though they're a little more restricted now.
[The American] dream is a secular faith that has unified people across every known divide. It has unleashed ennobling energies and mobilized heroic social reform movements. 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.
That "excessive realism" is the tell. If the "dream" requires lies to keep it alive, like Tinker Bell, it's a fake. "I'm sorry to disagree with your conclusions, but I think they're a tad overly true if you know what I mean."
In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.
All right, that's enough. I have to go read SEK. He and Driftglass think there might be some, ah, irony in Brooks saying, "I think you distort American history." Helmut for the Sadlys virtually explodes. This is our Humility Professor's most hilarious piece in months, and we're flocking there like seagulls over a bathtubful of freshly killed fish guts. It's going to be a long day, as Drifty says. There's also a pretty great, though lengthy, parody by Objective White Man at Jezebel. Barbara, who has taken to referring to him as "The Cabbage". Adam Johnson for Alternet with the useful observation that Brooks evidently hasn't read Coates's book (of course we already knew that he never reads books all the way through). Charlie with a lovely, almost Japanese precision. Steve M catches the extent to which the Brooksian humility is a Dickensian mask for hatred and resentment. Chauncey basically just runs a long quote on the apparent grounds that there's nothing he could do that would make it any funnier, and I suppose he has a point. And a note by Corey Robin!

Update: Late entries from favorite writers who are usually too busy for the Brooksology competition—Vixen, who may feel it's just too important amid the shits-'n'-giggles to address the column's racism directly, and Susan with a full-scale fisking or maybe even an Anger Translation.

No comments:

Post a Comment