Countries Have Borders, Cont.


Responding to the following:

It's true that the boundaries of the collective create problems for the individual --problems that should be confronted and wrestled with. But this a human problem, and the implication that black people are in exclusive or chronic possession of that problem strikes me as wrong-headed.

Commenter Ange writes:

So how does one wrestle with these problems without being accused of implying the problems are unique (to their race, ethnicity, etc.)? It's difficult to converse about these things without getting personal, but the second you get personal you're missing the point that this is human nature. Seems like a difficult line to walk...

Indeed it is. But from my perspective, it's the very reason a great deal of literature and film exists. I'm thinking everything from American Beauty to Far From Heaven to The Age of Innocence, to The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to The Great Gatsby to Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Janey never says "I wish I was post-black, then maybe I could be an individual." But clearly she's trying to negotiate the mores of her community and find some kind of individual happiness. If it weren't for the tension between the collective--be it family, town, church, ethnic group etc. -- I'm fairly sure a large swath of literature wouldn't exist.

What would we do without Chris Rock struggling with the boundaries of community in Niggers vs. Black People? What would we do without Larry David, after being dubbed a "self-loathing Jew," quipping, "I do hate myself, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish."

Getting back to the original question, what often rankles me is the inability to see the foibles and wrinkles of black people, as the foibles and wrinkles of humans. If we accept that tension between the individual and the community is a human tension, if we accept that these human communities have definitions, and thus have borders, then it's hard to understand why any particular "post-black" community would be any different. It's just another city, with another set of borders,

In post-black fashion, Newland Archer wants to find a world where categories don't exist, where he and Madame Olenska  are free to simply be "two human beings who love each other." But Madame Olenska, a cosmopolitan herself, knows better

Oh, my dear -- where is that country? Have you ever been there?...I know so many who've tried to find it; and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo -- and it wasn't at all different from the old world they'd left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.

They're all cities. They're all fallible. Harlem is no different. 

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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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