Teachable Moments

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Gates on yesterday's affair:

Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together, inextricably, as characters - as metaphors, really - in a thousand narratives about race over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great Republic itself, but these new ones have unfolded precisely when Americans signaled to the world our country's great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear, and electing an African American as President. It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.

Meh, I guess.

We have too much faith in talk,--or rather we have too much faith in big men to control events through talk. The obsession with a "dialouge around race" is nauseating. I can't tell if it's real, or just a notion that (much like "postracial") that cable news hosts put to their guests. But it's an extension of this notion that Barack Obama created this America we see right now, as opposed to him being a product of it.

I've had many "teachable moments" around race in the past fifteen years. Very few of them have been inaugurated from up on high. No president could teach me what I learned walking down Broadway to Canal Street, what I learned out on Flatbush. At least not through words.

We have become obsessed with talking. Everywhere you look someone's talking. We need more listening, more watching, more reflection, and more time alone. One of the reasons I tossed the TV was because I felt like having it the house, was like having a friend over who wouldn't shut the fuck up. Or rather I was unwilling to make him shut the fuck up.

Crowley needs to go do his job (within the law, I might add), and Skip Gates needs to go do his. I guess he is doing his. I feel like America is going to be America. I'm skeptical of the power of figureheads to change things. What I'm trying to say--very inartfully--is that knowledge can't, and shouldn't, be imposed. People in search of teachable moments, ultimately need to--and will--teach themselves.  It's all all out there.

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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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