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The politics of black aspiration
March 23, 2014 10:34 AM   Subscribe

"A number of liberals reacted harshly to Ryan. I'm not sure why. What Ryan said here is not very far from what Bill Cosby, Michael Nutter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama said before him. The idea that poor people living in the inner city, and particularly black men, are "not holding up their end of the deal" as Cosby put it, is not terribly original or even, these days, right-wing. From the president on down there is an accepted belief in America—black and white—that African-American people, and African-American men, in particular, are lacking in the virtues in family, hard work, and citizenship:
If Cousin Pookie would vote, if Uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching SportsCenter and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics.
Cousin Pookie and Uncle Jethro voted at higher rates than any other ethnic group in the country. They voted for Barack Obama. Our politics have not changed. Neither has Barack Obama's rhetoric. Facts can only get in the way of a good story. It was sort of stunning to see the president give a speech on the fate of young black boys and not mention the word racism once. It was sort of stunning to see the president salute the father of Trayvon Martin and the father of Jordan Davis and then claim, "Nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life."

Ta Nehisi Coates explains that Paul Ryan's remarks on inner-city black males actually fit neatly in a long tradition of progressive scolding of black people, both from within and without the black community in the US.

Jonathan Chait disagreed with this and argued that there are substantial differences between rightwing and progressive rhetoric about black responsibility, defending president Obama in particular:
But Coates is committing a fallacy by assuming that Obama’s exhortations to the black community amount to a belief that personal responsibility accounts for a major share of the blame. A person worries about the things that he can control. If I’m watching a basketball game in which the officials are systematically favoring one team over another (let’s call them Team A and Team Duke) as an analyst, the officiating bias may be my central concern. But if I’m coaching Team A, I’d tell my players to ignore the biased officiating. Indeed, I’d be concerned the bias would either discourage them or make them lash out, and would urge them to overcome it. That’s not the same as denying bias. It’s a sensible practice of encouraging people to concentrate on the things they can control.
Jelani Cobb was quick to respond to this, calling it "the kind of treacly liberalism best reserved for movies about dedicated white teachers who inspire their angry inner-city students" and arguing that:
It’s not a coincidence that the history of black self-help has been so closely associated with many of the fiercest critics of the American social order. Discussions of race in America are mired in comparisons between blacks and other immigrant groups, but the dividing line is apparent: while the immigrant effort at self-improvement has often been rooted in a faith in American possibility, the ethic of black uplift was frequently entwined with its very opposite, an indictment of that possibility—or a loss of faith in its promise.
Ta Nehisi Coates also responds to Chait, concluding:
Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past and the historical vestiges of which still afflict black people today. They believe we need policies—though not race-specific policies—that address the affliction. I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life, whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust.

There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are.
posted by MartinWisse (76 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ta Nehisi Coates explains that Paul Ryan's remarks on inner-city black males actually fit neatly in a long tradition of progressive scolding of black people, both from within and without the black community in the US.

Progressive tradition what?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:04 AM on March 23 [4 favorites]


What is there to say after Ta Nehisi Coates's article? That should be the last word on discussions like this. Especially:

For some reason there is an entrenched belief among many liberals and conservatives that discussions of American racism should began somewhere between the Moynihan Report and the Detroit riots. Thus Chait dates our dispute to the fights in the '70s between liberals. In fact, we are carrying on an argument that is at least a century older.

My God yes. Implicit it most race discussions today is this understanding that the black population suddenly manifested late in the 20th century as an urban underclass.
posted by deathmaven at 11:10 AM on March 23 [53 favorites]


DAMN, Coates. Damn.

That guy just opens up the truth-floodgates and lets it flow mercilessly.
posted by edheil at 11:11 AM on March 23 [15 favorites]


I didn't know who "Cousin Pookie" was -- this article, linked by Coates, explains it well.
posted by escabeche at 11:16 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


I think there is very little or no honest discussion of race in the public sphere, but Ta Nehisi Coates is one of those coming closest.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:29 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


From the first link: Getting angry at the individual cabbie is like getting angry at the wind or raging against the rain.

Yes and no. I mean, I get the point, but when you see someone illegally discriminating against you, you report the jackass. Every time. I have done this on more that one occasion and had cabbies pay fines for doing the wrong thing. And the more you take people to task for discrimination, the less it's going to happen.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:31 AM on March 23 [4 favorites]


I had read that (last) Coates article without paying a lot of, if any, attention to the preceding articles it was responding to and found it extremely compelling. Half of me regularly wants him setting policy on a variety of issues to bring some much-needed integrity and balance to the way our government works and the other half of me doesn't want him muzzled by working for the man.
posted by immlass at 11:35 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]


TLDR: If we could get poor people to behave like rich people without giving them any money or treating them like we treat rich people all their troubles would be solved!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:40 AM on March 23 [20 favorites]


Paul Ryan:

"We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with," Ryan said.

This attitude makes me want to rage. First, it's blindingly, obviously racist - otherwise, there is ZERO need to call out " inner cities" specifically.

Second, what about the other " culture" that Ryan and his cohorts unerringly support? You know, the one that excels at destroying jobs and sending millions of others elsewhere?

Third, and most enraging, is the insinuation that a large chunk of the unemployed are unemployed by choice. Anyone who thinks the answer to any of this is " get a job " is an asshole and an idiot.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:44 AM on March 23 [41 favorites]


We have got this tailspin of culture, on Wall Street in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:45 AM on March 23 [40 favorites]


We have got this tailspin of culture, on Wall Street in particular, of men not working

This is untrue. People on Wall Street actually tend to work pretty long hours, and from personal observation I've seen them hustlin' everyday.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:57 AM on March 23 [6 favorites]


I don't know, I think there's a difference between:
There are social problems in the black community, therefore, we need to cut off all funding of social programs immediately.
and
There are social problems in the black community, therefore, we need to support politicians who will vote to continue and expand funding of social programs.
posted by goethean at 11:58 AM on March 23 [5 favorites]


Progressive tradition what?

It's a weird inversion to blame progressives for what are really modern centrist-to-conservative viewpoints — a bit like calling someone a socialist for keeping Wall Street running, I suppose, where language fails because words get used without taking into account their actual meaning. I think it might have roots in the false association between Obama and modern progressivism, and there are probably historical analogues here between this and the rise of Tony Blair and (New) Labor as some kind of revolutionary alternative to Tory or right-wing governance, by adjustments to branding/language as opposed to actual differences in ideology and agenda, of which, in the end, there ended up being objectively few.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:00 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


We have got this tailspin of culture, on Wall Street in particular, of men not doing real work and just generations of men not even thinking about doing real work or learning the value of ethics and developing a moral compass and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
posted by vicx at 12:01 PM on March 23 [11 favorites]


Let me just speak up for Paul Ryan here, as a member of his district. The jackass doesn't know shit about the inner city he practically lives in. (We're not that large a city, and he lives in an interwar home close to downtown, just blocks from rental properties and vacant lots that were demolished as blight years ago.) It's really just appalling to hear him abruptly proclaim himself an expert on poverty when whatever he's done to educate himself must have taken place somewhere else.

Are we "inner city"? Probably not what most people would think, but half the students in the city's schools are on some form of assistance and qualify for free lunches, and unemployment shot up after the GM plant (and other auto-industry employers) closed in 2008, something Ryan himself infamously tried to blame on Obama, so it's not like it's a complete fucking mystery to him. The kicker is, while we do have what locals call a "ghetto" (my neighborhood of historic, but generally poorly maintained homes), and most of the minorities in town concentrated here (again not far from Ryan's home, so it's not like he can't see anyone), but we're still an overwhelmingly white community. So why wasn't he using his own hometown as an example?

Yeah. You know why.

You may have seen Timothy Egan in the NYT calling Ryan out for his Irish amnesia. I would say that perhaps he doesn't understand the somewhat defensive, but unquestionably insular ethnic cultures here in Janesville. A lot of Irish worked at GM and thus were able to build homes and live a middle-class lifestyle, and they were a big part of the reason that Janesville stayed white (while nearby Beloit actually recruited Southern blacks to work at the Fairbanks-Morse plant, resulting in a racial mix that was something people up the road here were very aware of).

Anyway, to respond to goethean, the keyword here is "culture". That is what he used talking to Bennett. It wasn't called a "problem", it was called a "culture". If that's not trying to shift the blame I don't know how clearer I can explain it. And if Ryan were really interested -- as a local LTTE tried to claim -- in starting a problem-solving conversation, then he shouldn't have started inside the consevative echo chamber, but by going to the NAACP (f'rex) and asking for one.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 PM on March 23 [24 favorites]


You know how, when you ask a lot of people if they could go back in time and kill someone who would they kill, and it's always, like, Hitler?

I've thought about that, and I thought probably Thatcher or Reagan, then I thought well, no, how about Hayek or von Mises.

But now, I think, after that thread about the Greens project and gangs, and watching some more gang shit, I'd probably go hunt down J. Edgar Hoover for all the damage he did to the potential of the black community to work towards building themselves up. The internecine fighting spawned by COINTELPRO, the work he did towards removing any revolutionary social impact that the Black Panther Party could have amongst their population, from a self-liberatory effort into factional politics, drugs, gang warfare. Huey himself died because of his addiction to crack rock. You can say he fell by his own sword, but if that sword wasn't used to cut up his own community and they could have organized them together into a force for freedom, well...

And it does get into this. This idea of "poor black fathers" (of course we never talk about "poor white fathers" who abandon their kids or "rich white men" (oh sure, kid, I'll drop a few thousand into your college fund, fuck if I don't do shit with you, I'm too busy to actually be a father)... But when you're struggling to survive, when you have a system that snatches you from your home, when you have the odds stacked against you, it's a joke to say that it's all their fault.

One thing implicit in all this argumentation is the Classic Liberal idea of Individualism.

In that previous gang thread I made a comment earlier today that, watching the sort of growth of gangs and how they sort of started just as street corner toughs defending their little turf, it was a lot like watching the old white dude on his porch with a shotgun yelling "Get the hell offa mah propahteee!"

The difference there is that, as Huey Newton said:
"The police in our community couldn't possibly be there to protect our property because we own no property. They couldn't possibly be there to see that we receive the due process of law for the simple reason that the police themselves deny us the due process of law, so it's very apparent that the police in our community are not for our security, but the security of the business owners in the community and also to see that the status quo is kept in tact."
The discussion of "Community" vs "Business Owners" here is very pertinent, because it really does come down to a fundamental Weltanschauung dichotomy between those who rule the roost (which is based upon this long esteemed history of modern political liberalism which is influenced, of course, by those who have wealth and thus is an ideology of those who retain power and wield that power by espousing mythologies that reinforce that power. Because this is a form of cultural hegemony, it is just assumed as "common sense" and "fact" amongst those who buy into it. The assumptions it entails is built into itself and in fact "self-evident" by the fact that those who have the gold make the rules, so of course what they decree is how it should be.

Should we instead talk less about defending "MY PROPERTY" and work towards establishing pride in "OUR COMMUNITY" and building up communally what has been stolen economically. Moved out of the community, etc... It wasn't until the Panthers came along and started the push for their children to have a breakfast program for the youth of their neighborhoods that the idea caught on in a more bourgeois form. They understood the importance of communal support for their children, especially when the larger national community abandons them, tells them that it's a struggle for each individual MAN to be the Patriarchal Father to his family (and isn't that one more part of the Kyriarchy entrenching itself, not just Race but Gender).

No doubt there are some serious problems facing the black community, but I think to say the problems facing a young teenager in, say, inner city Chicago are the same problems a middle-class Black Family in the suburbs are the same and if only the kids in Chicago had a Daddy to set an example, they would totally be fine and it would all be good, so buck up you saggy-pants wearing thugs and act just like us with our values, oh, but still, don't expect us to actually HELP you in that process. And don't you DARE ask us to recognize that the struggles you face in doing what we demand of you are doubly hard for hurdles that you must overcome that we Sons of Privilege take for granted... (Hey, that'd be a great TV show name, no? It could be a bunch of Suburban White Dudes going on weekend Harley rides and attending Tea Party Rallies in their Mini-Vans that have a Harley sticker and an American Flag on the back)
posted by symbioid at 12:07 PM on March 23 [31 favorites]


God damn, that's good. For my money, Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the greatest essayists in the history of American letters, and certainly the most insightful and eloquent commentator on American society alive today.
posted by gkhan at 12:10 PM on March 23 [13 favorites]


gkhan: "Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the greatest essayists in the history of American letters"

holy hyperbole batman
posted by gertzedek at 12:19 PM on March 23 [5 favorites]


And for the opening paragraph, I can't help but think of my first introduction to that concept was Lenny Kravitz's "Mr Cab Driver".

Later, Souls of Mischief's "Cab Fare" touched on the same issue... (with an unlicensed sample of Bob James' "Angela", a.k.a. "The Taxi Theme")
posted by symbioid at 12:23 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the reason that leaders have abandoned the invocation of racism is that it has proven a ineffective tactic over the last thirty years. Racism was a powerful rallying call up through the 1960s, but the stories of greatness are all about Selma and MLK and huge marches on Washington. In short, activities that stopped in the early seventies.

Since then there has been a lot of talk about racism but not a lot of forward motion. I'm sure this is in part due to the fact that there are few solid, actionable things to do. There are a few remaining holdouts, but mostly there are no longer specific laws and rules that you change. But I think a lot of it is that the topic of racism doesn't appeal as it once did.

So racism as a rallying cry appears to have had its day. Now the cry is "Get your shit together." Will that do any better? No one knows yet, but it beats going with a proven failure.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:49 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Half of me regularly wants him setting policy

Assume a can opener......
posted by jpe at 12:50 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


That copyright trolling OP of a few months back suggested that you really don't want a federal judge getting mad at you. I'd add: you really really don't want Ta-Nehisi Coates getting mad at you. He will tear you apart calmly and thoroughly, and yet never demonize you— he'll do it with a maximum of imaginative sympathy.
posted by zompist at 12:51 PM on March 23 [10 favorites]


So racism as a rallying cry appears to have had its day. Now the cry is "Get your shit together." Will that do any better? No one knows yet, but it beats going with a proven failure.

Well fine, but then let's ALL get our shit together and treat each other as equals.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:59 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


"the kind of treacly liberalism best reserved for movies about dedicated white teachers who inspire their angry inner-city students"

(As an aside, the #OtherWhiteMovies tag on twitter has been pretty great in the last day or so.)
posted by straight at 1:06 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


TBH these really aren't essays as such. They are great, topical writing in the compact format of a blog, but I don't think they're the same sort of thing (as for example these) and largely don't aspire to be, either. Coates does do some of that, just not in his blog.
posted by dhartung at 1:07 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


I enjoy reading Coates because he is like a mathematician. He shows the work. There is something about being taken along with someone on their intellectual ride that is really appealing. Particularly when that ride starts from a different origin and takes a different route.
posted by srboisvert at 1:09 PM on March 23 [20 favorites]


Fantastic post. Thank you for putting this together.
posted by Makwa at 1:10 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


When Coates does do essays, they're also pretty spectacular.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:33 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


As part of the Wisconsin GOP, Ryan has done everything in his power to keep the black residents of Milwaukee from having access to jobs in the suburban Milwaukee area.

And I do mean everything.
posted by ocschwar at 1:44 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


@gertzedek: I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I'm totally serious. I rate many of the things he's written being at least as insightful and well written as the works of somebody like Edmund Wilson or Gore Vidal. He's just an amazing writer.
posted by gkhan at 2:29 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


To anyone interested in what inner-city fathers are or aren't doing, I'd recommend Doing the Best I Can, because fieldwork FTW.
posted by rhymes with carrots at 2:43 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Paul Ryan confronted about his "inner-city" comments.

What I like is that the audience member flat-out states that "inner-city" is code for "black."
posted by dhens at 3:09 PM on March 23


Wow, so I got around to reading the whole article, and this right here is the fucking clincher:

"But is the culture of West Baltimore actually less virtuous than the culture of Wall Street?"
posted by symbioid at 3:30 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand all the Coates worship here. His article was just bad. His "argument" against Ryan's point was that it fit within a tradition of such points. That's not an argument at all, merely an observation.

Coates only addresses substance briefly and poorly when he asks
But is the culture of West Baltimore actually less virtuous than the culture of Wall Street? I've seen no such evidence.

This is a disingenuous twist of the issue at stake. Wall Street is arguably full of selfishness and greed, but it's also full of very hard work and very high intellectual achievement. To conflate these two different ideas under the single word "virtue" is either stupid or dishonest. No one's claiming West Baltimore is failing because its culture is too ruthlessly driven in the pursuit of profit.

Is there actually a problem with a culture of non-work? Ask social workers and those who actually work with the poor to be honest with you. I have, and have gotten the same answer multiple times. There are many systematic reasons for this, of course, and also huge problems with lack of opportunity, no doubt. But culture is an issue, and to deny that is just foolish.
posted by shivohum at 3:33 PM on March 23 [6 favorites]


I dunno. We all know Paul Ryan is a racist asshole, but I can't help but agree that Chait has a point:
The argument is that structural conditions shape culture, and culture, in turn, can take on a life of its own independent of the forces that created it. It would be bizarre to imagine that centuries of slavery, followed by systematic terrorism, segregation, discrimination, a legacy wealth gap, and so on did not leave a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success.

Coates dismisses the culture objection in his latest piece by asking sardonically, “is the culture of West Baltimore actually less virtuous than the culture of Wall Street?” I think the example undermines his point. I have no idea how to compare Wall Street to West Baltimore, but it’s clear that Wall Street has an enormous cultural problem — which is to say it has normalized kinds of behavior that many of us consider bad.
First off this isn't just about black culture, there's also serious issues with poor white culture (the movie Oxyana being a good case-study). I also had my perspective shaped by living in a poor suburb of Liverpool England for 6 months, where there's zero racial diversity but an enormous prevalence of generations-poor whites who've latched on to petty crime, violence, drugs, alcoholism, bling bling consumerism and general asshole-ery, and hang out in groups antagonizing everyone who isn't wearing a track suit.

I'm perfectly happy to "blame" that on England's sagging economy and Maggie Thatcher, but the reality is you've now got generations of people who've got stockholm syndrome with their own systematic victimization. It's past the point of just giving them education and jobs, because fuck you society we'd rather drop out, get council housing and maybe happy slap you. My ex (who's as left-wing/socialist as I am) worked for UK benefits agency and holy shit the stories she came home with every day.

There has to be a way to acknowledge that a culture actually can be shaped and damaged over time by structural conditions, and that that damage can be severe enough that where at one time simply fixing the structural conditions would have sufficed, now you have two problems.
posted by crayz at 3:43 PM on March 23 [12 favorites]


His "argument" against Ryan's point was that it fit within a tradition of such points. That's not an argument at all, merely an observation.

That is his argument, which Chait took issue with. You're just describing the conversation here.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:47 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


His "argument" against Ryan's point was that it fit within a tradition of such points. That's not an argument at all, merely an observation.

I don't know which article you're referring to, as the OP linked to two different Coates articles. The thesis of the first article is that Ryan's argument is a less-veiled version of the same argument that Obama has been making recently. The thesis of his second article is not only that the history of such arguments stretches back back back to the days of the slave trade, but that history has shown again and again that it's not "black culture" that's the problem, but rather continuing black oppression.
The point here is rich and repeated in American history—it was not "cultural residue" that threatened black marriages. It was white terrorism, white rapacity, and white violence.
Talking about "cultural residue of white supremacy" presumes that we now live in a time without white supremacy.
posted by muddgirl at 3:49 PM on March 23 [7 favorites]


Talking about "cultural residue of white supremacy" presumes that we now live in a time without white supremacy.

It actually doesn't whatsoever. The world can be more complex than linear causality, binary decision of blame one thing or blame the other thing. That's true even if you think 95% of the blame is on thing A and you've got Paul Ryan saying 100% of the blame is on thing B.
posted by crayz at 3:53 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


shivohum: "Is there actually a problem with a culture of non-work? Ask social workers and those who actually work with the poor to be honest with you. I have, and have gotten the same answer multiple times. There are many systematic reasons for this, of course, and also huge problems with lack of opportunity, no doubt. But culture is an issue, and to deny that is just foolish."

Hold on - why are we still talking about this? Forget Coates' stacks upon stacks of research in his second article. Forget his well-researched and impeccably well-considered summary of the history of progressivism and race. Forget statistics, forget hard science, forget trying to get an accurate picture of what is actually going on among poor people in America.

Clearly there's no need to keep trying square this circle; the truth about poverty in the United States has been revealed for all to see, comprehensively and in thorough fashion. shivohum talked to some social workers.
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 PM on March 23 [12 favorites]


It actually doesn't whatsoever. The world can be more complex than linear causality, binary decision of blame one thing or blame the other thing. That's true even if you think 95% of the blame is on thing A and you've got Paul Ryan saying 100% of the blame is on thing B.

If the balance is 95% A and 5% B, then why even talk about B like it's a crucial point when A is by far the bigger problem?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:07 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


Mostly to refute it, I guess; why?
posted by LogicalDash at 4:09 PM on March 23


The world can be more complex than linear causality, binary decision of blame one thing or blame the other thing.

Except I don't believe that "black culture" and white supremacy are two distinct, binary things at all. They're the exact same thing.
posted by muddgirl at 4:18 PM on March 23 [5 favorites]


Forget Coates' stacks upon stacks of research in his second article.

His research seems primarily aimed at proving structural racism/oppression against blacks has existed and still exists, but no one here is denying that.

If the balance is 95% A and 5% B, then why even talk about B like it's a crucial point when A is by far the bigger problem?

Because in this case A is "centuries of oppression and discrimination that continue to this day" and B is "the damage that oppression and discrimination has done to present-day black culture". There's nothing we can do to fix the past and at this point the black cultural problems are now caught in a feedback loop where it's fueling continued racism and discrimination.

I would argue it will be essentially impossible to fix either present day racism or present day black culture problems independently - they're now both feeding into each other, and even if causally the entirety of the blame is on the racism, the question of "what can we do about it now?" has to admit that there are problems in black culture that need to get fixed concomitantly, or you will never in practice be able to fix the cultural/structural racism.
posted by crayz at 4:21 PM on March 23


Because in this case A is "centuries of oppression and discrimination that continue to this day" and B is "the damage that oppression and discrimination has done to present-day black culture". There's nothing we can do to fix the past and at this point the black cultural problems are now caught in a feedback loop where it's fueling continued racism and discrimination.

I would argue it will be essentially impossible to fix either present day racism or present day black culture problems independently - they're now both feeding into each other, and even if causally the entirety of the blame is on the racism, the question of "what can we do about it now?" has to admit that there are problems in black culture that need to get fixed concomitantly, or you will never in practice be able to fix the cultural/structural racism.


I think this merits a long quotation from Coates:
There certainly is no era more oppressive for black people than their 250 years of enslavement in this country. Slavery encompassed not just forced labor, but a ban on black literacy, the vending of black children, the regular rape of black women, and the lack of legal standing for black marriage. Like Chait, 19th-century Northern white reformers coming South after the Civil War expected to find "a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success."

In his masterful history, Reconstruction, the historian Eric Foner recounts the experience of the progressives who came to the South as teachers in black schools. The reformers "had little previous contact with blacks" and their views were largely cribbed from Uncle Tom's Cabin. They thus believed blacks to be culturally degraded and lacking in family instincts, prone to lie and steal, and generally opposed to self-reliance:
Few Northerners involved in black education could rise above the conviction that slavery had produced a "degraded" people, in dire need of instruction in frugality, temperance, honesty, and the dignity of labor ... In classrooms, alphabet drills and multiplication tables alternated with exhortations to piety, cleanliness, and punctuality.
In short, white progressives coming South expected to find a black community suffering the effects of not just oppression but its "cultural residue."

Here is what they actually found:
During the Civil War, John Eaton, who, like many whites, believed that slavery had destroyed the sense of family obligation, was astonished by the eagerness with which former slaves in contraband camps legalized their marriage bonds. The same pattern was repeated when the Freedmen's Bureau and state governments made it possible to register and solemnize slave unions. Many families, in addition, adopted the children of deceased relatives and friends, rather than see them apprenticed to white masters or placed in Freedmen's Bureau orphanages.

By 1870, a large majority of blacks lived in two-parent family households, a fact that can be gleaned from the manuscript census returns but also "quite incidentally" from the Congressional Ku Klux Klan hearings, which recorded countless instances of victims assaulted in their homes, "the husband and wife in bed, and … their little children beside them."
The point here is rich and repeated in American history—it was not "cultural residue" that threatened black marriages. It was white terrorism, white rapacity, and white violence. And the commitment among freedpeople to marriage mirrored a larger commitment to the reconstitution of family, itself necessary because of systemic white violence.
(Emphases Coates's)
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:29 PM on March 23 [14 favorites]


Forget Coates' stacks upon stacks of research in his second article.

And fascinating that he manages not to describe any sources that specifically investigate contemporary cultural differences or the lack thereof.

His only response to the idea of such differences that might be relevant to inner city poverty now is to quote historical sources about black culture right after the civil war. What?
posted by shivohum at 4:29 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


What should one say to any particular person who is wasting their life and making big mistakes? That seems like a more important question because that personal conversation could actually matter.
posted by michaelh at 4:29 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


In my last comment I meant the "black culture" that Paul Ryan blames for urban poverty
We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
not actual black culture in America.
posted by muddgirl at 4:34 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


What should one say to any particular person who is wasting their life and making big mistakes? That seems like a more important question because that personal conversation could actually matter.

A paradox - solutions for individuals often do not work on a societal level, but hypothetical structural solutions are useless for individuals.

Except I don't believe that "black culture" and white supremacy are two distinct, binary things at all. They're the exact same thing.

When I was a teenager this Black woman said to me once that she hated hearing about the "Black community," which in her opinion did not exist. Communities of Black people did exist, but you never read about "the White community," do you? She also expressed some discontent that no one had consulted her or taken her vote before proclaiming certain connected individuals "Black community leaders."
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:38 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


(Just to be clear once again, I put "black culture" in quotes because I'm talking about Paul Ryan's concept of "this tailspin of culture" that I don't in any way agree with.)
posted by muddgirl at 4:40 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


And fascinating that he manages not to describe any sources that specifically investigate contemporary cultural differences or the lack thereof.

His only response to the idea of such differences that might be relevant to inner city poverty now is to quote historical sources about black culture right after the civil war. What?


The point is that if anything could have destroyed black Americans' self-reliance, or love of family, or whatever, it would have been slavery, which was even worse than anything visited upon them since; but, as those historical sources show, not even slavery managed to do it. So it's fair to say that crying "culture," in a world of mass incarceration, voter ID laws, and God knows what else, only serves to distract from those problems.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:46 PM on March 23 [15 favorites]


Along the lines of comparing Baltimore to Wall Street: why is it horrible to leverage social programs for personal gain but acceptable (if not downright admirable) to do the same in a business environment? At minimum, there is a foul-smelling double standard at work in this country. This has much less to do with acceptable behavior than it does with whose ox is being gored.

Devise any system (or "culture", if you prefer), and someone will figure out ways to game it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:03 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


Of course Coates also seems to be arguing that nothing can successfully be done, given that he says that white supremacy will afflict black people until the end of the country. Is the solution to wait until global climate change destroys civilization?
posted by happyroach at 5:08 PM on March 23


The point is that if anything could have destroyed black Americans' self-reliance, or love of family, or whatever, it would have been slavery, which was even worse than anything visited upon them since; but, as those historical sources show, not even slavery managed to do it. So it's fair to say that crying "culture," in a world of mass incarceration, voter ID laws, and God knows what else, only serves to distract from those problems.

His point is also that there has been one long continuum of people since slavery ended saying that there is a problem with black culture in America distinct from white supremacy, as though at some point between slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and the war on drugs white supremacy took a break.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:23 PM on March 23 [17 favorites]


The problem with Wall Street, and really the entirety of the business community that considers "business" an intellectual and moral activity separate from the goods and services a business produces, is that the "professionals" working in the industry by and large appear to feel that they are under no obligations to society beyond following the law and rudimentary notions of "honest" practices aimed at maintaining a reputation. In contrast to fields like law, medicinal, and engineering, there is little attention paid to ethics, honesty, and the impact of professional practices on society. That disregard is built into the very ethos of the "profession": Greed is Good. In other words, many individuals working in their own self interest will naturally produce a beneficial outcome for society. With such a worldview, larger considerations of ethics or social impact are unnecessary.

In practice, that really doesn't work much differently from "West Baltimore". What matters is not how the money get's made, but that it does, in fact, get made.

"I made a G' today
But you made it in a sleazy way"

Who cares? The market is always right. The flow of money in a free market always reflects the most efficient and moral distribution of societies' resources. Riches are reflections of God's grace.

If there is a law preventing you from getting rich, break it. Or, if you are rich and powerful enough, as is the case with Wall Street, buy (oops, I mean exercise your right to free speech by donating to a political candidate) a politician and have them change it.

Wall Street has the power to change laws it doesn't like and hire lawyers and lobbyists to shield itself from its wrongdoing; a West Baltimore drug dealer does not. From the perspective of both parties' respective concerns regarding the impact of their economic activity on society or the planet, there really isn't much difference. It is whatever they can get away with.

Of course, the West Baltimore drug dealers are influenced by desperation, alienation, and lack of opportunity, Wall Street traders are influenced by an abundance of opportunity, greed, entitlement and ambition. It is sad that supposed "progressive" politicians, such as President Obama, invert the two. Jamie Dimone is a "smart business man". Shaniqua is a bad mother; Delonte made "poor choices".
posted by eagles123 at 5:43 PM on March 23 [6 favorites]


Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past and the historical vestiges of which still afflict black people today. They believe we need policies—though not race-specific policies—that address the affliction.

This is straw-manning at its worst. And absolutely wrong. Otherwise DOJ would not be fighting to restore the Voting Rights Act in its full glory.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:05 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


srboisvert: "I enjoy reading Coates because he is like a mathematician. He shows the work. There is something about being taken along with someone on their intellectual ride that is really appealing. Particularly when that ride starts from a different origin and takes a different route."

That's a really good description of what's so appealing about Coates.

I've followed this conversation with interest (and it's nice to see a fairly in-depth, respectful, and informed discussion of a political issue in the mainstream press). The one thing that was discordant to me, though, was when Coates said: "It was sort of stunning to see the president give a speech on the fate of young black boys and not mention the word racism once." I mean, I guess it was surprising, but that seemed entirely on purpose. I think what Obama was doing in that speech was explaining to white Americans what was so incredibly painful and emotional and visceral about the Trayvon Martin case for black Americans, and using the word "racism" immediately turns some people's brains off. ("Oh, he played the race card, I can stop listening.") He managed to talk about for structural racism without saying "racist":
And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact -- although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
I think that speech was directed at people like my friend Kris, who is loosely Republican but not very political, who lives in a very white neighborhood, who doesn't have the background to really talk about issues of social justice and privilege, who absolutely believes in equality and freedom and deplores racism, but is largely blind to structural racism. She was puzzled by the intense reaction to the Trayvon Martin case, and she watched Obama's speech, and she thought it would probably be some "race-card stuff." But she was like, "You know, he talked about being a kid going through that, he talked about being a dad, and I can't even imagine if people looked at my son and assumed he was a thug just because of his skin color or his neighborhood, that would just be the worst thing as a mom ..." And now she's like a little bit aware of these issues of structural racism, and it's not like a magic transformation, but our city's been doing some community campaigns regarding structural racism in public places, and at first she thought these were silly, but now she thinks they might help, and she's taken an interest in some recent news stories about the racial makeup of the local police force and whether it affects arrest rates.

And the reason it got to her is because Obama didn't say, "Lady, when you clutch your purse tighter on an elevator when a black man gets on, you're being racist," but he said, "It was personally painful for me when someone reacted that way." And my friend Kris went like, "Shoot, I know sometimes I react that way and I wish I didn't, I hate that I'm making a teenager feel bad!" instead of being like "I'M NOT RACIST! THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO ME!"

I think Obama chose that moment and framed that speech very carefully to make a particular kind of plea for human sympathy and to help white Americans understand what living in a structurally racist society is like, without using the words ("racist," mostly) that make people turn their brains off. So many of my Republican friends said they were "surprised" by his speech and thought it was very "fair"; they thought it was emotionally "moving" and had "a lot of good points" about being a parent or a young person of color.

Not that oppressed peoples should have to soft-pedal their oppression or anything, but that Obama's decision to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a human, parent-to-parent appeal in this case was a very canny one that reached a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't have considered the issues of structural racism, and I think he really succeeded in getting that idea into a lot of people's heads who wouldn't have listened otherwise.

My friend Kris would still probably roll her eyes if you talked about "structural racism" in the police department, but if you said to her, "White cops may not understand black teenagers' cultural background and may interpret things as threatening when they're not," she'd be like, "Yeah, that is totally a problem we should address!" On the one hand, it's like, "Kris, get a clue." On the other hand, it's like, "I totally do not care what words we have to use as long as we can get a coalition of moms demanding that the police department create more positive relationships with black teenagers and protesting when arrest rates are clearly racially biased."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 PM on March 23 [62 favorites]


I can concede that culture is an issue. However, what do you do with that? The answer is nothing. A 'culture of poverty' is an epiphenomenon of a lack of opportunity and never having your material wants satisfied. 'Low class' culture is a symptom, not a cause of poverty.

People who blame poverty on culture are getting the causation backwards.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:23 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


Some of you guys are going on about African-American "culture" like it's this thing that exists completely outside of and independent of American culture as a whole.

Back in the days of apartheid there used to be these largely landlocked and resource-deprived Bantustans or so-called "homelands" into which Black South-Africans were segregated and granted a kind of sham independence. They were nominally separate nations but wholly dependent on South Africa for their economies. And with no true legal autonomy, they had no way to determine their own destinies. But the squalor they lived in was entirely their own fault, the story went.

Of course, outside of South Africa, the brazenness of that narrative was condemned as transparently self-serving by most of the rest of the world, with the notable exceptions of Israel, and for a long time, the US government. And though our country eventually spoke out against apartheid, grudgingly at first, and later with that kind of bullying triumphalist glee we adopt when we're on the "winning" side, we still have a problem acknowledging that poverty within America can be the result of anything but failure. Particularly within our own Bantustans.

But culture is an issue, and to deny that is just foolish.

Damn straight. Nobody's denying it. But the "culture" that's an "issue" is the entire culture of the USA which has conspired to engage in active sabotage against black communities for generations. Not some mythical walled garden of pathological black culture where we've just kind of drifted into patterns of isolation from the corridors of wealth and power. Because we all happen to have a personal preference for shucking and jiving all day unlike the serious and studious mythical white race we should be emulating.

Anyway I disagree with Coates about equating Ryan with Obama. Obama, for all his faults, doesn't appear to hate his own people. But like a typical liberal, I think he thinks he's done all he can do for Black folks under the circumstances, and he's not willing to risk his skin to do more. And with that self-compromising philosophy he's adopted up until recently, I think he felt he had to from time to time scold blacks to look tough, so he could turn around later and work on things that would help the community. Nobody ever thinks they have to scold widows, vets or police officers, but whatever, so be it. Contrast that with Ryan whose primary goal is to enrich the 1% by any means at his disposal. He might not be a classic racist either, but if the entire black race got swallowed up by a Florida-sized sinkhole, no Ryan tears would be shed; it would just mean fewer folks voting D.
posted by xigxag at 9:11 PM on March 23 [11 favorites]


There has to be a way to acknowledge that a culture actually can be shaped and damaged over time by structural conditions, and that that damage can be severe enough that where at one time simply fixing the structural conditions would have sufficed, now you have two problems.

Yes, there is. You start out by not trying to use the concept of culture against a group of people. That's Ryan's problem - he makes the comment and you know the next thing he wants to do is to punish the people he is criticizing, either directly via more laws, or indirectly by stopping any aid going to those neighborhoods. Ryan may very well believe that this aid is hurting the people there (I've heard too many people use the phrase "feed the animals and they don't learn to get their own food"), but he is blind if he thinks that cutting off "inner cities" will make jobs magically appear. They won't.

The problems in impoverished areas (not just inner cities) is a result of the poverty and the lack of good jobs that can get people out of it. Fix those problems and the whole "culture" thing goes away.
posted by RalphSlate at 9:21 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


Somebody finally clarifies what Paul Ryan really meant by "inner city".

And for the previous commenter who said "People on Wall Street actually tend to work pretty long hours, and from personal observation I've seen them hustlin' everyday," let me point out that I've observed Wall Streeters in action, and hustlin' =/= working.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:46 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Paul Ryan's Zombie-Eyed, Granny-Starving Tap Dancing
posted by homunculus at 10:34 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


I also had my perspective shaped by living in a poor suburb of Liverpool England for 6 months, where there's zero racial diversity but an enormous prevalence of generations-poor whites who've latched on to petty crime, violence, drugs, alcoholism, bling bling consumerism and general asshole-ery, and hang out in groups antagonizing everyone who isn't wearing a track suit.

Norris Green? Croxteth?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:43 PM on March 23


Meanwhile in Australia this just got posted and it's not April fools day ... it must be for real. The Attorney General of Australia is seeking to have the Racial Discrimination Act amended so that the right to be a bigot can be enshrined as freedom of speech.
posted by vicx at 12:37 AM on March 24


Eyebrows McGee, wishI could favorite your comment at least a thousand times.

It's so tough to be patient and sometimes I get tired of having to carefully craft messages in order to get through to people, but I think the movement and its results are more sustainable when we can reach people like your friend Kris.

I think, though, that some people -- like Ryan -- will never understand no matter how many Coates-level writers we have responding to what they say.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:57 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Wall Street is arguably full of selfishness and greed, but it's also full of very hard work and very high intellectual achievement.

Is there actually a problem with a culture of non-work?


Living in poverty is a full-time job in itself, no matter where your subsustence-level income coms from. Every little task is twice as hard; it's like living underwater. And your big reward fr keeping body and soul together at the end of the day is that you made it another 24 hours. It makes sitting in front of a computer and a telephone on Wall street, moving imaginary numbers around all day, look like a game of Chutes and Ladders. And the damage one unemployed person has the potential to wreak on the economy is nothing compared to the potential one Wall Street banker has.

Perhaps the reason that leaders have abandoned the invocation of racism is that it has proven a ineffective tactic over the last thirty years. Racism was a powerful rallying call up through the 1960s, but the stories of greatness are all about Selma and MLK and huge marches on Washington.

You don't hear as much overt racism on a national rhetorical level as you used to, but it's still there; it's just coded. And IME, there are plenty of white folks ready, willing, able, and eager to talk the talk behind closed doors. The younger they are, the more likely they are to use code, or be very choosy who they say things to, or add qualifiers, or act like they're just saying it for shock value.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:40 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I think, though, that some people -- like Ryan -- will never understand no matter how many Coates-level writers we have responding to what they say.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair
posted by me & my monkey at 12:10 PM on March 24 [6 favorites]


eagles123: "Wall Street has the power to change laws it doesn't like and hire lawyers and lobbyists to shield itself from its wrongdoing; a West Baltimore drug dealer does not."

"Mr Coke said to Mr Mayor: "you know, we got a process like Ice T's hair
We put up the funds for your election campaign
And, oh, um, waiter can you bring the champagne?
Our real estate firm says opportunity's arousing
To make some condos out of low-income housing
Immediately, we need some media heat
To say that gangs run the street and then we bring in the police fleet!
Harass and beat everybody til they look inebriated
When we buy the land, motherfuckas will appreciate it
Don't worry about the Urban League or Jesse Jackson
My man that owns Marlboro donated a fat sum"

That's when I stepped back some to contemplate what few know
Sat down, wrestled with my thoughts like a sumo
Ain't no one player that could beat this lunacy
Ain't no hustler on the street could do a whole community"
posted by symbioid at 12:43 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]


What should one say to any particular person who is wasting their life and making big mistakes? That seems like a more important question because that personal conversation could actually matter.
This is an important point, is there really anybody that could sit down with Paul Ryan and really make him understand that? How can one communicate, "you have a huge problem with how you see the world, here's what's wrong, and here's how you can do better," without making the listener instantly defensive? I think it can be done, especially the way that Coates does it, through a fantastic understanding of his audience, and explication of all the cognitive steps. It does require a lot of maturity from Paul Ryan, but he may take to the idea.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:23 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


Public Intellectual Deathmatch: Ta-Nehisi Coates & Jonathan Chait
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on April 1


Jonathan Chait: Barack Obama vs. the Culture of Poverty

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Other People's Pathologies - Black culture and the culture of poverty are not the same thing.

Jonathan Chait: Ta-Nehisi Coates Disagrees With ‘Jonathan Chait,’ and So Do I
posted by homunculus at 12:53 PM on April 1


I get so much more out of Ta-Nehisi Coates' pieces on this than Jonathan Chait's pieces. Coates makes a case while Chait only makes assertions. While one draws on history to lay the foundation the other draws on nothing but his own ill-informed thoughts. Chait's responses are also needlessly personal.

Part of the problem is he seems to be unaware that race is a core issue in this debate and was from the start. How could he write this:

Coates was also accusing Obama and Cosby of blaming “black culture.” I considered this a rhetorical cheap shot. Obviously, to me, Obama and Cosby do not blame “black culture” for poverty. (I don’t know as much about Cosby as Coates does, but I do know that he venerates black culture, and that the distinction between black culture and the culture of poverty is central to his worldview.) I didn’t bother pointing out the cheap shot.

Since when is it "obvious" and why doesn't he attempt to support this? That "black culture" is blamed for disproportionate poverty in black communities and that black people are the face of poverty in America has been pretty central to Coates' entire argument. It's why he compared Ryan to Obama, although Obama was actually more overt in addressing his bromides about culture to black audiences (i.e. Pookie is holding you back, don't be like Pookie), while Ryan just used lots of code words about the "urban" culture.

Chait is acting like race has nothing to do with this whole debate, it's just about the "culture of poverty" and we need to talk about that. I guess he's even claiming that Paul Ryan wasn't talking about black people either:

I was clarifying that Obama (and Bill Cosby) see the culture of poverty as a part of the problem of poverty, as opposed to its entirety, as Ryan sees it, and also opposed to zero percent of the problem, as Coates sees it.

How is this diatribe by Bill Cosby about anything other than Black people, with the constant references to Brown v. Board of education, "names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail," and "Who are these sick black people and where did they come from and why haven't they been parented to shut up?... These people are not funny anymore. And that 's not brother. And that's not my sister. They're faking and they're dragging me way down because the state, the city and all these people have to pick up the tab on them because they don't want to accept that they have to study to get an education."

Why, Cosby even calls out black multimillionaires who obviously aren't poor but who are black in the wrong way I suppose. This was linked in Coates' first article that spawned this debate but obviously Chait didn't read it. There's nothing "cheap" or "rhetorical" about claiming that Paul Ryan in his talk of irresponsible urban males, Barack Obama in his talk of the irresponsible Uncle Jethro and Cousin Pookie, and Cosby's entire screed are all about blackness. And Michael Nutter is often addressing middle-class black churches when he goes on his rants about things like "wilding" and how the members of those churches need to do something about it, as if it's their kids. Obviously Ta-Nehisi has reason to think these men are specifically calling out black culture. And he gives his reasons and places all of this within a historical and personal context.

I don't think Chait's latest even warrants a response from Ta-Nehisi, Chait is not even trying.
posted by Danila at 5:18 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Coates mentions stop-and-frisk in the Ta Nehisi Coates also responds to Chait link:
And we do not find an era free of white supremacy in our times either, when the rising number of arrests for marijuana are mostly borne by African-Americans; when segregation drives a foreclosure crisis that helped expand the wealth gap; when big banks busy themselves baiting black people with "wealth-building seminars" and instead offering "ghetto loans" for "mud people"; when studies find that black low-wage applicants with no criminal record "fared no better than a white applicant just released from prison"; when, even after controlling for neighborhoods and crime rates, my son finds himself more likely to be stopped and frisked. Chait's theory of independent black cultural pathologies sounds reasonable. But it can't actually be demonstrated in the American record, and thus has no applicability
Here's a good piece on stop-and-frisk:

What I Learned About Stop-and-Frisk From Watching My Black Son: The “special tax” on men of color is more than an inconvenience. A father shares his firsthand observations and fears.
posted by homunculus at 12:44 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Race, Culture, and Poverty: The Path Forward. The point of writing isn't just to son or be sonned—it's to know more.
posted by homunculus at 1:27 PM on April 5


Melissa Harris Perry is covering this on MSNBC right now. TNC is doing the interview.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:06 AM on April 6


Sometimes I think Bill Cosby is almost as ashamed of black people as I am of white people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:05 PM on April 6


The Color of His Presidency - "Optimists hoped Obama would usher in a new age of racial harmony. Pessimists feared a surge in racial strife. Neither was right. But what happened instead has been even more invidious."
A few weeks ago, the liberal comedian Bill Maher and conservative strategist and pundit Bill Kristol had a brief spat on Maher’s HBO show, putatively over what instigated the tea party but ultimately over the psychic wound that has divided red America and blue America in the Obama years. The rise of the tea party, explained Maher in a let’s-get-real moment, closing his eyes for a second the way one does when saying something everybody knows but nobody wants to say, "was about a black president." Both Maher and Kristol carry themselves with a weary cynicism that allows them to jovially spar with ideological rivals, but all of a sudden they both grew earnest and angry. Kristol interjected, shouting, "That’s bullshit! That is total bullshit!" After momentarily sputtering, Kristol recovered his calm, but his rare indignation remained, and there was no trace of the smirk he usually wears to distance himself slightly from his talking points. He almost pleaded to Maher, "Even you don’t believe that!"


"I totally believe that," Maher responded, which is no doubt true, because every Obama supporter believes deep down, or sometimes right on the surface, that the furious opposition marshaled against the first black president is a reaction to his race. Likewise, every Obama opponent believes with equal fervor that this is not only false but a smear concocted willfully to silence them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:17 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


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