Connecting The Dots

For those who aren't regular readers of this blog, it's worth restating a couple things. 1.) There is principled opposition to health care reform, that has nothing to do with race. 2.) It's not clear to me to what extent race motivates Tea Party leaders. I believe it to certainly be a factor, but I don't have a grievance-meter to tell you precisely how much or how little. 3.) African-Americans, whom I obviously care a great deal about, would benefit more from health care reform, than any sort of game which seeks to divine the precise calibrations of Joe Wilson heart.

Having said all of that, I think Adam makes an important observation here. Media is very interested in Jimmy Carter's assertion that racism is at play in the town hall meetings. It isn't very interested in Glenn Beck calling health reform "reparations" and claiming "medical schools will get more medical dollars if they've proven they've put minorities ahead." He did this back in July. It isn't very interested in Senate leader Jon Cornyn insinuating that health care reform will create a "quota system which will determine who would get treated on the basis of age and race."

There's a lot at work here: 1.) Race-baiters have, for the past few decades, repeatedly outfoxed anti-racists. Beck and Cornyn know how to walk up to the line. Carter is from a generation of liberals who never understood why people didn't agree them about Willie Horton. Thus Carter doesn't insinuate, he doesn't calibrate, he just speaks, political effects be damned. 2.) The dominant school of journalism holds that it's safer to talk about the effect of talking about race on Obama, rather than actually talking about its effects, period. That's true for most things though--reporters are generally more interested in gamesmanship, than issues. 3.) A lot of reporters take Beck and Cornyn's race-baiting is taken as a given. I'll be shocked if anyone asks Cornyn about this. I don't think they much care.

I think it's important for African-Americans to understand that.There's a part in The Audacity Of Hope, where writing about race, Obama notes that, rightly or wrongly, a significant swath of white people are exhausted, and repeatedly scolding them (even if you're right) is unlikely to alter the poverty stats. What we need, Obama argued, is a different strategy, one that connects our practical interests with the practical interests of the broader country--less energy on Don Imus and more on Harlem hospital. This sounds like a surrender, but it's really a re-affirmation of strategy that goes back to Douglass. The point was never to wash white people, (an arrogant pursuit, at any rate) but to free ourselves. My interest in anti-racism is passing. My interest in black people is essential.

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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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