Perhaps because I too occupy that pessimistically-infused, quasi-prophetic space in what I think of as industrialized civilization, I don’t find Ta-Nehisi’s perspective in any way grating (Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here to comfort you).
To some extent my view goes back to my deep appreciation for James Baldwin, beginning when I was a freshman in high school. I’d recently stumbled upon Black Like Me and I was very intrigued about the notion of getting to see the world through another human’s perspective. I asked our school librarian if she had any other books like that one, and she suggested a book by James Baldwin. What a writer he turned out to be.
What I found as a shy, introverted child, something of an outsider bussed to school from a rapidly receding farm countryside, is the attitudes I was able to experience in this imaginative literary world were very much alive all around me in many different ways, even in the then very liberal, academically-influenced Ann Arbor public school system; some attitudes were more overt than others, but arrogance is very hard to hide, because what is taken for granted as natural is not something folks tend to reflect upon.
And, throughout my life — this goes back now to those readings in the early sixties — despite all the liberal-minded efforts to create a world where racist attitudes are supposed to be induced to change through a patterning of conscious behavior towards a more open acceptance of each other, not that much has changed underneath. Particularly not by those who identify as white. An acceptance of all others who are just as human, though they may have different skin and physical feature characteristics, seems to always find a way to express itself, even if it’s embedded in such tropes as the belief that America is the land of the exceptional humans.
This attempt at patterning an overt set of behaviors that followed the work of martyrs of the sixties, like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, only barely covers a deeply embedded institutional racism that cannot hide from an honest and calmly discerning apperception of behaviors and speech. Truth is very difficult to hide if one remains open and simply aware.
Perhaps that’s one of the inevitable failures of a political correctness program that so many have reacted against in a very political way recently. I now think that the political marketing phrase: “Make America Great Again” is code for “Make America White Again.”
This article was worth my time, I spent about an hour with it, and double checked all his research: The First White President
If anyone is inspired to read it, note where he points out in the beginning that Trump’s predecessors were the recipients of something he calls “the passive power of whiteness.” This “passive power” is a latent feature of American life that folks like Mike Ditka (“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”) have recently shown their obliviousness (at best) or active denial (at worst) about. However, with the rise of “Make America Great Again”, passive appears to be moving rapidly, in one sector of our population, from latent to overt. And that sector has had a large influence in electing the latest icon of American power to the White House.
“Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates