Expiration Date Passed

Apparently Ta-Nehisi Coates’ magic has worn off. Several writers have recently taken issue with his ideas about race relations and whiteness (and white superiority). Thomas Chatterton Williams, who was one of the first black authors to take Coates on, returns for another at bat under with the approval of editors at the New York Times (not the New York Post or the Washington Times). This must be serious.

At the Atlantic though, where Coates writes regularly and achieved some of his fame, his editors still think Coates is brilliant and that they bask in the brilliance by publishing and endorsing his ideas. For instance, on a recent podcast about Charlottesville and the Confederate Monuments, Jeffrey Goldberg described President Trump’s reaction, in which he wondered if taking down Robert E. Lee leads to Jefferson and Washington, in cataclysmic terms:

It is an amazing moment when the president of the United States can’t delineate the difference between the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. I think this is a breakpoint in modern American history.

Hasn’t Goldberg read Coates? Someone well before Trump showed a lack of nuance in describing white supremacy in U.S. history:

For the men who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to ta social club, and the right to break the bodies was the mark of civilization. “The two great division of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black,” said the great South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” And there it is — the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant that there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.

You and I, my son, are that “below.” That was true in 1776. It is true today. (Coates, Between the World and Me, 104-105).

So what do the editors at the Atlantic think of a staff writer who cannot tell the difference between the Civil War and Revolutionary War?

9 thoughts on “Expiration Date Passed

  1. The typical authoritarian reaction to someone who is not liked is to try to discredit and to portray their works and ideas in all-or-nothing terms.

    I haven’t read Coates, but my feelings is that he is simply a mixture of somewhat accurate and inaccurate perceptions of society, as we all are. So I would be interested in knowing what Coates has said that D.G. agrees with and what he has said that D.G. disagrees with.

    IN addition, to say that Coates does not recognize the differences between the Revolutionary War from the Civil War from the above quote is premature. That he sees similarities in the plight of Blacks from the beginning of our nation through to today is a more accurate description of the citation.


  2. “The typical authoritarian reaction to someone who is not liked is to try to discredit and to portray their works and ideas in all-or-nothing terms.”
    Like assuming the “Benedict Option” is about walling yourself off from society because you lost power?


  3. No it isn’t. You’ve ignored all the stuff he said in the book contradicting your assertions. Is cherry picking authoritarian?


  4. sdb,
    First, I don’t have his book nor have I time to read it. Second, I am going by what he has written. And from he has written, what I have said is clearly an observation. And what you have to ask is whether he is contradicting what he has either explicitly said or implied.


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