John the Prophet

Over at The New Republic, McWhorter tells you all what I'll write--before I've even written it:

In a recent Bloggingheads dialogue, Ta-Nehisi Coates admitted to me that Iowa had forced him to "reassess" his pessimism as to how far America has come on race. If Obama loses, people like Coates will desist in their reassessments, and settle back into their cognitive comfort zone.

It's true, I blame the White Man at any opportunity. Were it not for The White Man I'd already have a genius grant, and be on my third Pulitzer. My son got in trouble today at school. The first question I asked the principle principal was "Where was The White Man, and how long had he been there." It's really all I care about. Plus it's difficult to argue about what you'll think, before you've even thought. Still normally, I'd go with John on this. Except that the written record is a little more complicated. Here I am on that Yahoo study that found white racism would kill Obama:

This topic crops up once a month it seems. And so we have a furious debate, again, over how much racism will cost Obama in November. Hmm, well it'll probably cost him something, but this seems to me to be a giant unknowable. I also agree that there are some transperency issues here.

Here I am on the wisdom of spending your days focused on white racists:

One of the things that's shocked a lot of people is Obama, and his campaign's, unwillingness to talk about how many votes he may lose because of racism. The CW is that any talk about racism loses Obama even more votes. But there's another--arguably more important--reason not to spend much time dwelling on racism--it's a bad way to compete. No great football player sits around worrying about the refs and the crowd-noise.

And more inside the head of Ta-Nehisi:

And despite all of that, a specifically organic black conservative outlook is the closest thing I have to religion. It's just what I believe. This is real talk for you: If you're frustrated by my reluctance to engage in a fight over whether something is racist or not, or whether proven racism matters or not, I understand. But it really boils down to this--I'm not very interested in trying to show racist white people, and non-racist white people who defend them, the error of their ways. As a black person, I'm just kind of "Meh." I do it from time to time, but by in large I think we make a huge mistake when we continually view the fate of black folks through the prism of "what are white people thinking?"

And here I am on what will happen in black America if our boy goes down:

That's why an Obama defeat would be met with resignation more than rage. No one is more tired of talking about racism than black people. The disenchantment with protest politics, the fatigue from refighting old battles over school integration and affirmative action, even the rise of politicians like Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick point to a shift in the disposition of black America. The big issues of the day aren't so much racial profiling and police brutality as the achievement gap, the incarceration rate and unemployment. The great race conversation has not only decreased in volume; for black people, it's also become much more introverted. At this moment, black America is in the grips of a kind of barbershop conservatism that is more concerned with its own progress than with the attitudes of whites.

As to John's specific charge, I don't know what people John is referring to. It can't be the same black community that thinks Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey are better influences than Al Sharpton and Barack Obama. It can't be the same black community that's supported Barack Obama, virtually unanimously, even as he (rightfully) upraided them for not doing for self.

So that leaves me, no? Well here's the thing. My record on grievance-mongers is pretty clear. Moreover, I have no idea what my assessment will be if Barack loses, and if I were that stilted in my thinking, than all of you should stop reading me right now. No seriously, the day I take comfort in any one unitary theory of the world, the day you see me slinging singular explanations for big complicated phenomena, is the day you should forget my name. There's nothing comfortable about writing--it involves repeatedly interrogating yourself and your own assumptions. It's hard and its awful, and you often find you're wrong--even about white people. Especially about white people. May it always be so.

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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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