Mar

12

Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Just Like Us

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic. The New York Observer has called him “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States.” (Coates disagrees.) He has been asked to be a permanent columnist for the New York Times.

And he hangs out in some of the same places we do. He lives in Harlem Morningside Heights, two blocks away from Columbia, and (before the Forrest Whitaker incident) used to frequent Milano. He’s a fan of Maoz. He was interviewed by the Observer in “a Morningside Heights bakery near his Harlem apartment,” otherwise known as Hungarian. During the interview, he compared Internet trolling to demanding that Hungarian serve chicken.

Writing about the Forrest Whitaker incident, he told Times readers just how amazing Milano is:

I’ve patronized the deli with some regularity, often several times in a single day. I’ve sent my son in my stead. My wife would often trade small talk with whoever was working checkout. Last year when my beautiful niece visited, she loved the deli so much that I felt myself a sideshow. But it’s understandable. It’s a good deli.

Coates’ point, which he elaborated upon in an interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, is that it’s impossible to escape the effects of structural racism even in a nice neighborhood. That is, our neighborhood.

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17 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    Weird that the angle of this post was LOOK HE LIVES NEAR US YAYYY NEW YORK<333 instead of "look what he has to say about the shitty racist thing that happened where we both live"

    • Um  

      "Coates’ point, which he elaborated upon in an interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, is that it’s impossible to escape the effects of structural racism even in a nice neighborhood. That is, our neighborhood."

    • sigh  

      It really isn't that serious. We're all in full midterm stress and I'm sure that right now we can all benefit a little more from some inconsequential fun fact than from rehashing a month-old incident.

  2. Anonymous  

    he came to Columbia last semester! such a good speaker, really nice guy

  3. Anon.  

    Why was the incident considered racist? My understanding of the situation--gleaned from the various news reports was that:

    1) An employee observed someone (who later turned out to be Forest Whittaker) conceal something beneath their jacket.

    2) The employee stopped Mr. Whittaker and subjected him to a cursory pat-down and quickly determined that no such theft occurred.

    3) Apologies were made, Whittaker then made a statement to the press. The employee was fired.

    According to TMZ:

    <>

    No mention of racism by Whittaker there. No claim of racism at all. I can't comment on the legal issue of detention/frisking, as I am unfamiliar with N.Y. state laws on the same.

    Still. No racism.

    The NY Daily News:

    <>

    A mistake. A human mistake.

    From the same article, Whittaker's publicist says that

    “What is most unfortunate about this situation is the inappropriate way store employees are treating patrons of their establishment.”

    No mention of racism.

    Coates' article assumes an unconscious racism on the part of everyone, even "good people" and places the Whittaker incident squarely within this narrative. This idea usually serves two purposes: it damns everything as irreparably racist and exclusionary and it serves as the sole reason for social inequality, black failure, and the high rate of incarceration for African-American men. In short: it's the ultimate excuse. White people simply want a permanent underclass because it somehow serves their purposes and maintains a system of white supremacy. It's this ingrained idea of institutionalized racism when he speaks of a system that rejects blacks from the middle class and

    "haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such."

    An invisible violence? That's quite a story: a perfect academic construct because it can't be seen, never mind proven. It's a form of argument by feeling. This is becomes clear when Coates descends into rhetoric and hyperbole in his "I am trying to imagine sequence" before ending with his resolute, grand indictment:

    "And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take."

    That's all fine. Coates is using narratives and stories of racism to put bread on his table and makes a fine polemicist. That doesn't make any of it true. Whittaker's skin color doesn't make this a racist incident. Coates saying it's so doesn't make it so.

    Bwog covers this because it's troll food. It sparks reaction, discussion, debate. It doesn't lower the price of sandwiches, however, and it certainly doesn't engender understanding. What it DOES manage to do is shine a spotlight on the ugly divisiveness that still stands, even at Columbia.

    Meanwhile, very visible forms of violence continue all over the streets of New York. I'm sure Forest Whittaker will get over it.

    • Anonymous

      The idea of an inherently white supremacist society does not rob the individual of all agency, saying that all he/she does or says is merely a result of the system. If that has come across in what you've read, I think you've misunderstood. You are also mistaken if you think we do not live in a white supremacist society to begin with. I don't even see how it can be logically that we AREN'T. It takes generations (even centuries!) to move away from cultural norms and ideals and white supremacist thinking was explicitly codified in our laws well into the 20th century. Do you think the sentiments behind that just magically evaporated? Do you think we all, including you and I, smart and learned as we are, conscious and cognizant, have properly excised from our brains the web of white supremacist thinking that has been perpetuated for so long?

      • Anon.  

        I'm familiar with the argument.

        I just happen to disagree.

        • anon  

          I'm sure what you have to say about something that's never affected you has SO MUCH BEARING

        • Anonymous

          Do you believe racist thinking is always active and intentional?

          • Anon.  

            What would you like me to believe?

            If there's one thing I've learned here it's that what I believe doesn't matter to Columbia. I spit back whatever oppression-of-the-masses dogma my professors want me to. My degree will be in Econ, but my major here has been hypocrisy.

            I don't need a fucking white savior any more than I need a black one. Wave your silly ass banners. Boycott Milano. Do whatever the fuck you want.

            I'm here so I can collect this piece of paper and make stacks.

            Fuck Forest Whittaker and fuck you ideologues for propagating the idea that every black man is a victim.

          • Anonymous

            To Anon.: The question isn't a trick. I'm curious what you think. Maybe I'll continue to disagree with you, but I want to know what you really believe to be true. You believe no racism was involved in the Forest Whitaker incident, so I'm following up with that. Besides this example, do you believe there are other actual incidents of unintentional or unconscious racism?

            As for regurgitating professors' ideas, there are many things that I learn and understand as true merely because I cannot investigate every idea or event for myself. But I also learn and think and rethink and I do see many, many examples of unconscious racism or "invisible" white supremacist thinking being played out. I have also listened to many, many people of color communicate their experiences. I know enough examples to prove the theory true.

            This is not a trick so I can set you up to eviscerate you. My first response wasn't a trick either. I was just responding.

          • Anonymous  

            I don't think people know why they do or say or believe anything that they do or say or purport to believe.

            If you want to chalk it up to unconscious racism, cool. Chalk it up to the air quality. Chalk it up to urban dysfunction. Chalk it up to whatever the fuck you want.

            People do dumb shit. People do unpleasant shit.

            That doesn't make dumb, unpleasant shit some part of an ongoing racist narrative.

            Forest Whittaker doesn't care about me. Why should I care about him? He isn't funding, fucking, or feeding me.

          • Anonymous

            So you think people do shitty things possibly unconsciously, but not part of a coherent societal system of any sort. Okay. I can take that. I disagree with it entirely, but I see what you're saying.

            Another thing. On your premise this incident was NOT racist, and not every incident with a black man involves race. To me, though, a racist narrative must exist for SOME people, because people do things that you couldn't deny are racist. Aren't they working within a racist system? Where else would they get their ideas from but a system of some sort? Would you say that it is a racist system but not a DOMINANT as the white supremacy narrative suggests?

  4. yay  

    i didn't know he lived here!

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