What Probably Needs To Be Said

I think I was wrong for implying that yesterday's rampage was strictly the result of racism. I did not say that--but it's very strongly inferred in the post. It's worth noting that at the time I wrote the post, the dude's blog was down, and so all I had was what I quoted. That doesn't excuse anything I wrote. It just gives you some idea of how it happened. It's very clear that the dude was crazy. It's also very clear he was racist. It's also very clear that he was a misogynist. Again, I hate weighing these things against each other. But I think, given the victims, dude's sexism, at the very least, deserved more prominent billing. We will talk later about how these two forces often intersect.

It's worth pointing out a few things. There is, I sense, an accumulating frustration around what we call racism, and what we don't, or what we name as racism and what we don't. I think Obama's approach to this sort of thing has been helpful for me, as he really knows how to explain both sides with some sincerity. I'm envious--he's speaking from what he knows, and having been raised in a largely white family helps him in this business.

I don't have that same reservoir. I grew up exclusively around black people. Until I was 20, all my friends were black, and everyone I'd ever loved was black. All the women I've ever dated are black. Every neighborhood I've ever lived in has been black. When I was young I was proud of this. Now, I don't much care--it's who I am. But I try to understand my limits, that I am, in many ways, a white guy who's lived in the neighborhood all his life.

It's not a mistake that my experiences have been as they are. Racism is part of it. But a larger part is, there is no other way to say this, a deep-seated fear of white people.  To white ears, this may sound crazy. The obvious retort is that, given the murder rate, we should be scared of each other. But we are talking about two kinds of fear. One is the individual fear--this guy might kill me. The other is an existential fear--these people really wish I'd just disappear.

I'd humbly submit that this existential fear permeates all of our conversations, it most certainly haunts this blog. A lot of my readers may find that bizarre. These days, James Byrd is the exception not the rule. This is not the Red Summer. This is the age of Obama. And yet a large number of us are only a generation, or two, removed from the worst kind of family stories--grandparents run off their land, uncles shot for sassing white people, great-grandmothers raped and no prosecution. The violence of the past lives in our very genes. We see it when we look in the mirror, when we comb our hair. I think often about Germany, font of Western philosophy and high-mindedness, and none of it stopped them from industrializing the destruction of a people, none of it stopped them from trying to make a people disappear.

Black people aren't just a minority--they are a historically despised, presently marginalized relativey small portion of the population. (85 percent of people in this country are not black.) Moreover, this is a nation filled with people who are armed to the teeth, and I wonder about their disposition toward us. When I hear about some dude shooting up a joint and listing as one of his reasons, his inability to compete with black men, I get scared. I hear the old ghosts of history howling, and I respond in kind.

That is not very smart--you tend to miss out on other things when you're focused on your own fears. But I'm human and replete with my own prejudices and limitations. What you get here, is not the world as it should be, but naked thoughts. It's self-serving to say this, but it's why I constantly urge people who comment here to start their own blogs. My perspective on the world is as constricted by history as anyone else's. I would ask folks, who don't share that history, to try to understand that as they read--much as I must work to try to understand the same about them.

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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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