The Conversation

Alison Jackson


Some readers found the September cover, and the related images within James Fallows’s story previewing the presidential debates (“Slugfest”), to be distasteful.

What happened to The Atlantic, an American voice of reason? In a very insightful analysis by James Fallows of past debates of Mitt Romney and President Obama, the pages were polluted by moronic simulated images of the presidential candidates physically beating each other. This presentation not only accepts the Tea Party’s approach of “no compromise” and “fight to the death”; it adds nothing to the political debate, and wastes paper and ink.

Deane Rykerson
Kittery Point, Maine

The photographs accompanying James Fallows’s article are demeaning to the office of president of the United States. They are demeaning to the two men who are running for that office. They insult the intelligence of voters who dare to hope that The Atlantic can rise above the inane and sophomoric. And they are an irritating distraction to those who seek to read the article.

John M. Hyson
Stockbridge, Mass.

Fear of a Black President

Several readers said they were moved to tears by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s September article, which The Huffington Post described as “a powerful exploration of the racial fault lines that President Barack Obama must perpetually negotiate, limiting his potency on a range of crucial issues.” Other readers insisted that Obama is hampered not by his racial identity but by his inability to lead.

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” From there, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes in detail his broad skepticism of the motives and voting patterns of a race different from his own. Indeed, his article could just as easily have been titled “Fear of the White Voter.” When whites oppose nationalized health care, they do so out of racism. When they protest budget deficits, they do so out of racism. When Republicans threaten a filibuster, they do so out of racism. When they accuse the president of racism, they do so … well, I’m sure you’ve guessed it.

Recent NBC/Wall Street Journal polling data show that 0 percent of black voters support Mitt Romney, while 40 percent of whites support the president. Coates bemoans the fact that he has a black president whom whites allow to act only “half as black,” but it is in this open chauvinism that Coates’s sentiments most closely resemble the racism he supposes he sees in others.

Quentin B. Fairchild
Fort Myers, Fla.

“In 2008, as Obama’s election became imaginable, it seemed possible that our country had indeed, at long last, come to love us.” This sentence sums up the tendency to view oneself not as a unique individual operating within a broad, diverse society, but as a member of one tribe within a society of tribes. Any time I hear something like this, I think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream: that his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

By saying that Obama’s election was an indication that “our country had … come to love us,” Mr. Coates is actually asking to be judged, at least in part, by the color of his skin. The truth is, America has a long list of favorite black sons and daughters—people who are widely admired by Americans of all races. But these people are not admired because they’re black—or in spite of their race. They’re admired because they’re highly accomplished people.

If we had feared a black president that much, the 2008 election would have had a different outcome. The primary reason President Obama is running into headwinds now is not because we fear a black president, but because we’re usually reluctant to reelect a bad president.

sumlikeit comment

Mr. Coates writes that a black president has to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” and do his best to resemble the Huxtables. Further, the subject of race must be avoided in the national conversation. Unsaid by Mr. Coates, but implicit, is the thought that these standards are imposed not by all whites but by a large and influential segment: conservatives. Yet I believe that segment would embrace a candidate like Allen West or Tim Scott in a heartbeat, and listen to whatever he wanted to say about race.

Liberals like Mr. Coates confuse conservative political views with racism. This may not be calculated. They may believe that conservatism is racist. That makes a conversation about race difficult.

Roger T. Baker
New Orleans, La.

Using racism as a scapegoat for failed leadership is the epitome of stupidity. America is by far the most multicultural country in the world. While people in other countries are still hacking people to death because of their tribal affiliation, America has affirmative action and hate-crime laws.

Sam King
Coquille, Ore.

As the Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin cases show, Obama simply has no choice but to stay away from racial issues, in any shape or form, if he wants to have a chance of being a success.

The one quibble I have is with the characterization of the article as angry, and the author’s acceptance of that description (as seen in the accompanying video interview online). Methinks such a characterization falls within the same area of concern that the article seeks to highlight—a black man cannot even write a heartfelt piece such as this without it being seen as an angry response of some kind.

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