The Limits of Good Faith

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

At Simmons College in Louisville on Friday, Rand Paul was asked about the criticism he encountered at Howard. He responded as follows:

Paul acknowledged criticism for the speech he gave at Howard University Wednesday, saying, "I think some think a white person is not allowed to talk about black history ... which I think is unfair." 

At Howard, he spoke for about an hour about how, historically, Democrats opposed integration and minority voting rights, while Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln. At Simmons, he talked about how blacks once registered in large numbers as Republicans, how Democrats in Kentucky opposed constitutional amendments that gave African Americans expanded rights and how Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal from its creation in 1868 until 1919, opposed letting black people vote. 

"Much of the public doesn't know that anymore, and part of my reason for bringing it out was that so people know Republicans aren't hostile to civil rights or somehow to African Americans," he said.
I guess I should point out here that white persons have been allowed to talk about black history for as long as there has been black history. Over the centuries much of that talk has been regrettable. In the recent decades, at lot more of it has been transcendent. There are many white people who talk about "black history" who would be quite warmly received at Howard -- Jim McPherson, David Brion Davis, Beryl Satter, Edmund S. Morgan, Drew Gilpin Faust, Eric Foner, John Thornton. (Those are just a few of my favorites.) There are even white people at Howard who are talking "about black history" at this present moment at Howard University. When I was history major at Howard, one of my favorite classes was a survey of American history by Joseph Reidy.  

But all of that is really beside the point. Rand Paul went to Howard University, lied, and then got his ass kicked. That's not so bad. I got my ass kicked regularly at Howard. That was the reason my parents sent me there. But having gotten his ass kicked, his answer is to not to reflect but to make an allegation of racial discrimination.

One of the things I try to do in my work is -- in general -- take people at their word. It's very hard to communicate about anything without good faith. This, of course, assumes that communication is the goal. That was my assumption about Rand Paul. I was clearly wrong. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/the-limits-of-good-faith/275001/