Proud of Being Wise


I gave some more thought to Bob McDonnell's proclamation today, and was fairly convinced that he would stand by his guns. We are at this point in our culture where admitting an error is seen as a concession to people we don't like, as opposed to an effort at self-improvement. But I've always thought of admitting your errors as the consummate act of self-interest, a reflection of our self-assurance and self-confidence.

Bob McDonnell expressed his own self-assurance today by apologizing and amending his declaration so that it explicitly acknowledges not simply the institution of slavery, but slavery as the root cause of the Civil War:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.

My initial reaction is that this is one of deep, heart-felt happiness. I have spent the past year and half studying slavery and the Civil War, with a specific focus on Virginia. I have become tied to people who died long ago, and have inherited some piece of them. I took McDonnell's original statement as an affront to people I love. That he changed, even though he must have known that his actions would be reported as a "surrender," deserves note.

There is some sense in my correspondence with conservatives that I enjoy pointing out their flaws, especially around race. I assure you that this is wrong--and it's especially wrong around race. Nothing would please me more than for this cruel, long war to finally end. Nothing would please me more than to take off this armor, and get to the things which I love and are original to me--Carolingian Europe, early Islam, and home-made sushi. I want so bad to take up skiing, to drive across Montana and think nothing of being the only black person for miles. I want to not wince when I hear an Elvis Presley record. I want to believe in the police. 

I think I can speak for my folks, when I say the vast majority of us long to be done with this business. I think, and so dearly hope, that we're headed that way. And I think that McDonnell made a small, but incredibly important, step to getting us closer. Whatever my many disagreements with him, in this specific business, I salute him for doing something we so rarely see these days--committing an act of political courage.
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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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