Breaking Brown

August 11, 2011

ta-nehisi coates asks the obvious (and already answered) question


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

In today’s blog entry, Ta-Nehisi Coates asks his readers to talk to him like he’s stupid. He asks, “Are the London riots about race?”

I’m not picking on The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’m a fan, really I am. I read his column regularly, almost daily, and find his views (mostly) thoughtful, even eloquent (at times). But is a black man who attended Howard University really asking this question?

If you were white Ta-Nehisi, then maybe I’d “talk to you like you were stupid”. But you’re not white or stupid. You have more than enough historical background- both personal and learned – to answer this question for yourself. As a fellow Howard alum, I’m calling bullsh*t on this one.

It reminds of a conversation I had with my dear friend and expatriate / Howardite who – while at dinner with a group of friends – feigned disbelief at how big of an issue race had become in America. Another of our friends reminded him that although he lives abroad, that’s certainly not his point of reference. Race is now and always has been an issue in America. And him catching a 10 hour flight hadn’t changed that.

The Coates readers, many of whom are white, expect to be educated on the issue of race by the black writer and HBCU attendee, not vice versa. And a role reversal- where Coates becomes the pupil and his “Horde” the teachers – muddies the water on race and its impact. If a black man can’t see race here – in a case where singling out young blacks clearly sparked an uprising – then white people can’t be expected to see race anywhere. This is the rabbit hole we all go down when those of us with a voice on such issues abdicate our responsibility to inform our readers based on our own life experiences and collective understanding. And this is why and how Coates dropped the ball.

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2 thoughts on “ta-nehisi coates asks the obvious (and already answered) question

  1. Yvette says:

    And for the record, Coates subsequently banned me from making comments for disagreeing with him. I”m still a fan, but having thin skin is part and parcel of the problem with writers also acting as pundits. Writing is not the realm of the thin skinned and really, it’s all about a change of ideas. To take your toys and run away doesn’t speak well of your character. In fact, it speaks to your insecurities.

  2. Yvette says:

    I jumped over the coo-coo’s nest on this one. My bad…

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