“Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White” is an embarrassingly mushy public mash note from New York Times columnist David Brooks to modern America’s newest race huckster. Coates is an ill-tempered and self-pitying hack who has found a very lucrative franchise for himself writing about how awful America is and how unbearably hard life is for African-Americans. Yes, so tragically hard that someone barely literate and as ignorant as Coates can make a very comfortable living giving speeches and teaching writing seminars at Ivy League universities and be fawned over by well-meaning but naive people like Brooks.
By the way, I have corresponded with Coates, and I was honestly shocked at his inability to write a single sentence without simple grammatical mistakes, his profound ignorance, and his endlessly self-absorbed narcissism. I do not envy his editors at The Atlantic or the New York Times. But I did also enjoy a few cheap laughs reading Coates’ columns a few years back as he described in heroic detail how he had mastered A2 level French (i.e. Elementary, just enough proficiency to order dinner or ask directions). For a few months he made a point of ostentatiously throwing in random French expressions into his columns, just to remind everyone I’m An Angry Black American And I Speak French, Take That Mofos.
Coates exemplifies the kind of thinking produced by the typical African-American Studies program. Everything in the universe has to be viewed through the lens of race and ultimately explained by white racism. The American Industrial Revolution? Financed on the backs of black slave labor. The defeat of Nazi Germany? Morally tarnished by segregation in the military. Black-on-black violence? The result of institutional racism. Poor performance by black students on standardized exams? Ditto. Coates simply has no knowledge of economics, law, or history and his efforts to explain everything as a function of race lead him to intellectually absurd and even morally repellent conclusions.
Brooks practically coos over Coates’ new book Between the World and Me. “Every conscientious American should read it.” And Brooks is so blinded by unthinking adoration that he can’t see straight. He writes “you write that you watched the smoldering towers of 9/11 with a cold heart. At the time you felt the police and firefighters who died ‘were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.’
You obviously do not mean that literally today (sometimes in your phrasing you seem determined to be misunderstood). You are illustrating the perspective born of the rage ‘that burned in me then, animates me now, and will likely leave me on fire for the rest of my days.’”
Brooks doesn’t seem to understand that Coates does literally mean what he says. Coates burns with rage that sometimes young black men are shot and killed by the police, sometimes by mistake, and concludes that White America is a massive conspiracy to oppress and even murder black Americans with impunity. Well, I lived in an urban black neighborhood for three years and was repeatedly mugged and assaulted, and two of my closest friends were raped by black men, but I don’t conclude Black America is a massive conspiracy against white people. And I certainly would not react to the death of innocent people with such malice as Coates has for the police and firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center, people courageously trying to save the lives of others.
Coates also burns with rage over the historical injustice of slavery. I would understand if his great-great-great-great-great grandparents resented bitterly being held in bondage. In 2015 burning rage over the century-and-a-half old wrongs of slavery is either just looking for a cheap excuse to indulge in moral outrage, or a cheap trick to shill books and bamboozle the gullible, or both. Coates wallows in rage that he has no title to.
But Brooks practically whimpers, “Does a white person have standing to respond?” He feebly tries to point out that perhaps America is flawed, but nonetheless is a country that does offer opportunities to its citizens. Brooks might have pointed out that only in America could Coates do so well for himself peddling his perpetually angry and whiney nonsense.
Brooks pleads for Coates to understand that he is a White Person Who Means Well And Is Really Trying To Understand. “Maybe you will find my reactions irksome. Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change. In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.” Coates practically gloats over the deaths of his fellow citizens, much like Ward Churchill with his odious “little Eichmanns” celebration of 9-11. And David Brooks thinks it is incumbent for him to apologize to Coates for being white.
Well, I think Coates is the one who should be apologizing, first and foremost to the families of those brave souls who on September 11, 2001 so valiantly gave their lives to save others, and secondly to all the other men and women in uniform who serve and protect our communities. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, not the slanders and contempt of a hack writer filled with misplaced burning rage against a country that has been remarkably generous to him.