Jill Scott Cont.

A final thought on this, and then I'll let it go. Racialicious (EDIT: Flubbed you guys' name. My apologies.) offers a heart-felt defense of Scott, citing the trauma inflicted on many black women by our rather deplorable history in matters of race and gender. Again, I want to be cognizant of that history when I tackle this sort of thing and not come off with a "Get over it."

That said, the celebrity aspect of this really bugs me as a black dude. One of the wages of racism is that you are somehow implicated in the thinking of people who you do not know. And so whatever your professed feelings about black women, it's assumed that the actual truth lies in the vaunted of wisdom of R. Kelley, Keenan Thompson, Eddie and Tyler Perry. These are individuals who, with due respect, have staked their financial lives on entertaining the country--not on probing the intricacies and nuances of the black male psyche.

I am, admittedly, at a standstill in my thinking. I acknowledge the presence of a collective--of a black people, with a relatively common experience and history. But to me, the greatest illustration of that collective has always been in watching millions of different lives, respond in millions of different ways to the same experience. The ongoing crime of racism, to me, was always the erasure of those difference--the notion that we are some kind of borg. We see that today in this sense that black people are simply the sum of all their oppression, all their pathologies.

I think about Colson Whitehead's great novel The Intuitionist, and what I love about the book--among the many things I love about that book--is that great variance of how people behave despite the common stimulus of grinding racism. Not a week goes by that I don't think about Lila Mae and her father--they were so human to me. You see the same thing in the slave narratives, people living in a state of utter degradation, and yet they still have their own specific idiosyncrasies, their own beliefs, their own deeply original sense of the world.  

Racism's job is to erase us, to kill us, to make us all into sinister twins. This is the crime that causes the white lady to clutch her purse and cross the street. The notion is that something can imputed about pedestrians who happen to be black, from criminals who happen to be black. And this is the crime that tries to impute something about some 15 million black men, based on the musings of a well-compensated Steve Harvey.

 I'm not totally clear on this. There are obvious questions: Surely the experience of the individual can tell you something about the collective? I should think so. But this is as much about what I feel, as it is about what I know. And what I feel when I see people conflating my specific life and specific experiences, which is really all any of us have, with the experiences of athletes and entertainers, I feel like this--I am not them. So many of us are just not 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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