One Last Point


No disrespect whatsoever to Brendan Loy, but this is the sort of thing that white people who don't spend much time around black folks say:

This is the promise of the Obama candidacy, encapsulated and made real. Obama is urging blacks to leave behind, once and for all, the politics of conspiratorial victimhood -- the politics of Jeremiah Wright and, although Obama can't afford politically to say so explicitly, of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton -- and embrace the politics of unity and hope and, ultimately, self-empowerment.

OK, so some black people say that too. But the point I want to make is that to the extent that there are "politics of conspiratorial victimhood" at work in the black community, its because black people have been--and still are--victims of conspiracies. OK, so not much lately, you say? Well we're still suffering from yesterday's BS. Furthermore, forgive us if after centuries of slavery, racial terrorism, police brutality and otherwise wanton discrimination, if we can no longer tell the difference between conspiracy and plain old ineptitude.

Beyond all that, the truth is that the notion that the ideology of victimhood holds some great truck in the black community is consistently overstated by people, who frankly, aren't qualified to speak on this. In fact, as I wrote in my Cosby piece, when black folks were asked to list who they thought had a positive impact on black people, know who finished first and second? Those great paragons of "blaming the white man" Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby.

We don't need Barack Obama to lead us out of victimhood. What we need is white people to stop listening to a few Al Sharpton speeches and concluding that they've peered into the heart of black America. For right and wrong, African-Americans are the original Americans, the only true natives of this country, the only people whose history truly begins here. We have fought and died in every major war this country has fought. If we're guilty of anything it's too much optimism, it's too much belief in American exceptionalism. We are the ones who had to get the shit kicked out us in Selma simply to use a water fountain, and we held up the Bible and the Declaration of Independence while doing it. To the extent that Obama is attracting near universal support among black people, it's a reflection that people who thought that we were zombies marching lockstep with Sharpton and Jackson need to check themselves. Our problem was never that that we thought we thought we were victims, it's always been that we thought we were citizens. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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