No Black People On Seinfeld, Please

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think last night's Mad Men, again, made the case for how you talk about race on a show like that. You don't have Hollis and Hildie making out after work. You don't attempt to "address" race. You don't make speeches You make the world as believable as possible. It's not about the text, it's about the subtext--even when it seemingly isn't.

The most important part of that black-face scene, wasn't the scene itself, but the conversation between Don and the bartender. Don walks away, not so much disgusted at Sterling's racism, as at the whole pageantry and stupidity. But the conversation with the bartender, the sense of being outside, of not being able to use their bathrooms, is so black, and so black to me, of course, because it's so human. The scene between Peggy and herĀ  secretary, when she gets that the olderĀ  woman is scared for her, was like watching Obama run for president. It was all of us talking to our parents.

I don't say this to take away from anyone. The class implications are clear and powerful, and I'm sure there are people on the web analyzing them. The gender implications, and the conversation between two generations, almost two styles of feminism (an ongoing conversation Peggy repeatedly has with older women,) is incredible and profound. And I'm sure people will weigh in on that too.

I don't racialize those moments to take away anything, but to say this--I am fucking sick of hearing about black people in the 60s. At least I am sick of hearing about in the way we discuss, like only Abraham Lincoln happened before Martin Luther King, like everyone marched on Washington, or grew an Afro. I am just tired.

I want to hear about white people, now. Not their mythologizing and blind glamor, and not their cynical, infantile backlashing against that blind glamor (No more whining about how much the suburbs suck, please.) I want to hear something humble about a world I can't even envision, because here is the thing: If you tell me about that world, if you tell me something I don't know, and tell me about it in all its lush beauty, and rank hypocrisy, I will see myself in you. You don't have to show me my pedigree. Just show me yours. Don't try to be "inclusive." Just try to be human. Just tell me a story.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/08/no-black-people-on-seinfeld-please/24102/