The Fight We Want To Have

Is Joe Wilson a racist?

Responding to an audience question at a town hall at his presidential center in Atlanta, Carter said Tuesday that Wilson's outburst was also rooted in fears of a black president.

"I think it's based on racism," Carter said. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."

But Wilson's son disputed that.

"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general in South Carolina. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him."

"It's unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree - and appropriately disagree - on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it's absolutely ludicrous. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race."

Carter, a Democrat, said Joe Wilson's outburst was a part of a disturbing trend directed at the president that has included demonstrators equating Obama to Nazi leaders.

I don't think Carter called Joe Wilson a racist. Tha said, one reason some of us try to avoid this discussion is because of its enormous potential for distraction. From a black perspective, I care about the disproportionate number of black people who are sick and dying, not the contents of Joe Wilson's heart. 

Still, there's an element of this society that enjoys this debate. It really has nothing to do with health-care, or any other issue, as much as has to do with being confirmed. Some of us desperately want black people to acknowledgethat we are not our forefathers. Some of us desperately want white people to acknowledge that the spirit of those forefathers still haunts the land. We enjoy having this fight. We get something out of it--just not a  health care bill.

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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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