Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beyond the Coates-Chait-Ryan Fracas About "Black Pathology": Why Don't We Talk About What Black Americans are Doing Right?

The ongoing debate between the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates and New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait about Paul Ryan's (and movement conservatism's decades-long) effort to present black Americans as possessing a pathological and grotesque culture is a public service.

The Coates-Chait event has spawned some excellent writing. It has also attracted many hangers-on and intellectual flies who see opportunity in what they view as a metaphorical carcass worthy of plunder.

I will identity and praise the former in a general way; I leave the latter to be content with their hyena-like efforts as failed carrion eaters.

As my father, a well-regarded and talented jazz musician told me, "sometimes you just sit back and watch folks cut heads". Or as what is likely an improperly attributed African proverb suggests, "it is hard for a full mouth to talk". The wisdom is the same: watching and listening can be more valuable than talking for the sake of talking.

In another era, Coates and Chait would tour the country and show off their intellectual pugilism in a style befitting 19th and early 20th century men of letters. In this moment, my hope is that Coates and Chait, at the very least, are able to have a panel discussion on NPR or C-SPAN. The American public would be well-served by such a public conversation about race, culture, identity, and poverty.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait's debate about the role of institutional racism and the "common sense" logic and conclusion that African-Americans have "bad culture" as "revealed" by statistical "truths" exists within a broader context where questions of racial inequality overlap with political economy.

[Is it not funny how poor whites are never taken as stand-ins for "white people" in mass? White supremacy and white privilege truly are "get out of jail cards" for mediocre and failed white people.]

Both the provocation and preface for the debate between Chait and Coates are dependent upon the many social challenges and problems faced by the black community. This is not surprising. Critical thinkers seek out problems to be solved, discussed, and reflected upon.

There is another question that should be asked. It is impolitic. The question is challenging. Said question may cause upsetness, tears, frustration, or anger.

As W.E.B. Du Bois asked in regards to black Americans, "what does it feel like to be a problem?"

In many ways, the black American community is still bound by Du Bois's genius reflection about how white supremacy still works to limit the life successes and life chances of African-Americans in the United States.

Instead of asking what is wrong with Black America, and how Black Americans are "failing", we should ask and ponder what Black America is doing right. Is it even possible to have some public praise for Black America's successes in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama?

I am a Black American. I smile when I think about the singular and uniquely positive contributions of my people to the American project.

Moreover, I am loathe to participate in the obligatory Black History Month exultation of famous inventors, athletes, and other such rote listings of great black facts and people.

But, that centuries of life in a White Supremacist society did not make black Americans crazy, insane, destroy ourselves, or engage in (what is a reasonable and very much deserved) tit-for-tat acts of mass racial retaliation and terrorism against white people, is a triumph of collective and individual morality and ethics.

How the Black Freedom Struggle is in many ways quite successful, birthed a proud working class, a middle class, no small number of millionaires, and then elected a Black man President of the United States, is no small feat.

And yes, I acknowledge the dark irony that Barack Obama has little to no interest in dealing with the specific racial challenges visited upon African-Americans.

I choose to ask, instead of hand-wringing concern, worry, anxiety, and shame, what are some things that Black Americans in the present can and should celebrate as successes and triumphs?

I am a Black American. I am not a problem. I am a complex human being. I am not a ideal typical case or subject in a sociological treatise. To celebrate and acknowledge the successes of Black America in the present (and past) is not a whimsy filled lie, a happy pill, or other type of euphoric and distorted thinking.

Questioning and wondering what are Black folks and Black America doing right is an effort at seeking reasonable balance in the American public discourse, one that rarely talks about African-Americans in terms other than as a "problem" to be solved or managed.


RPM said...

What are black americans are doing right? Inventing all the different genres of music people have listened to in the last 100 years. Than constantly refine them so others will want to join in and continue to listen to them. Style has to be another one. The two biggest influences on American culture, at the moment, is black and gay culture. What you want to wear, listen to, or watch is predominately influenced by those two groups. When it comes to the artistic and cultural that's what all foreigners like about the U.S. They might hate us for a whole host of legitimate reasons abroad but culture ain't one of them. They love us for that. So what are black americans doing right (besides almost all social justice movements beginning with or taking off with them)? Not getting us killed by more foreigners. Also African Americans are more likely to support independent non corporate controlled media. And with that financial and moral support we can eventually break the propaganda state we find ourselves in. Throw in their support and aid for freedom movements across the world and hell I could be at this all day. Final bit, black americans produced Bayard Rustin. I don't think have been 10 human beings on this planet that were ever as awesome as he was. Your move racists. Just kidding. I don't give a crap what racists think.

joe manning said...

Often poor whites feel a heightened sense of failure when they compare themselves to successful blacks. In rare moments of honestly they acknowledge a heightened sense of failure because blacks are "held back" while they had the white skin advantage. Such "common plight" understandings show that racism hurts everyone.

DanF said...

What is black America doing right? Let's see ... getting up and going to work each day - perhaps to work on an interesting project for a change, or maybe the same old stuff that has to be done. Got the kids to school on time, checked in on the parents, helped a friend move into their new place, adopted a dog from the shelter. Wrote a note, a letter, a blog post, Facebooked your newly adopted dog. Paid a bill, visited the doctor, went downtown to grab some groceries, a bite to eat, get a beer with an old friend. Painted the baby's room, mowed the lawn, put a family portrait in a frame. Bought your spouse a birthday gift, read the newspaper, listened to the radio on the way home, checked out the latest internet meme on your phone, voted in the last election. Enjoyed the day, had a BBQ, cooked some dinner, played catch, washed some dishes, watched a little TV went to bed.

chauncey devega said...

You sound so normal and pedestrian. Are black folks allowed to do such things? More generally, what do you think Black America is doing right? Are we the sum aggregate of our individual members?

chauncey devega said...

Does it hurt everyone? I think you may be right in some ways. But white racism has done a heck of a great deal to benefit white folks, in general, despite their--like any other group's--many failings.

chauncey devega said...

Freedom movements absolutely. Music and culture? is that all we got. Much of "black" music and culture is anything but once we factor in the culture industry and corporate massaging and manufacturing of what it means to be "black".

joe smoo said...

Major Findings
There is more black-on-white than black-on-black violent crime.
the approximately 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence involving
blacks and whites, 90 percent are committed by blacks against whites.
Blacks are therefore up to 250 times more likely to do criminal violence to whites than the reverse.
Blacks commit violent crimes at four to eight times the white rate.
commit violent crimes at approximately three times the white rate,and
Asians at one half to three quarters the white rate.
Blacks are twice as likely as whites to commit hate crimes.
Hispanics are a hate crime victim category but not a perpetrator category.
offenders are classified as whites, which inflates the white offense
rate and gives the impression that Hispanics commit no hate crimes.
Blacks are as much more dangerous than whites as men are more dangerous than women.

joe manning said...

Supremacy is dehumanizing to the in-group, disallowing them to experience "community" with all of humanity in the spirit of fairness, reciprocity, mutuality, and equity.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I was curious about Coates' writing, glad I found some:

"I think it's hard for people who know you for your work, to grasp that they don't actually know you. And it's hard for people to get that if they refer to you as an acronym, they probably have never referred to "you" at all. And none of my friends are anonymous. The work gets dark and people think I must be dark. But they don't know and they can't see what's right in front of them--I was born dark.

I never expected a single thing I wrote to change anything. Writing rarely does. I never expect to make any white person see anything. And if they do, I hope they go read more. But really it's beside the point.

My aims are fairly limited: I expect to hug my kid, and tell him I love him. I expect to hug my wife, and tell her I will always support her. I expect to make my Momma proud ("Be a good race-man," she used to say.) And I expect to honor my Dad. I expect to drink some good rum. And I expect to know more tomorrow than I know today. And I expect to talk to the youth about taking control of their own education. And I expect to be a good writer.

And that really is it. It's all I can ask. It's all I can control. Isn't this old?"

smiley said...

About 90% of interracial violent crime in our nation is committed by
blacks against whites. The black-on-white murder rate in the U.S.
exceeds the white-on-black rate by about 2.5-to-1. The black-on-white
assault and battery rate exceeds the corresponding white-on-black rate
in this country by at least 10-to-1.

I would rather not report
what is known about U.S. interracial rape statistics because it could be
taken as incendiary, but the previous numbers in terms of black/white
proclivity are dwarfed. (See Department of Justice, Criminal
Victimization in the United States, "Victims and Offenders.")

here's a hint: Because the number of white-on-black rapes is so low
nationally in any given year, the ratio ranges from 100-to-1 to
infinity. Liberal, politically correct feminists need to reflect on that

If these interracial crime ratios were randomly based,
they would be uniform — that is, 1-to-1 — for the two racial groups. In
other words, the population with six times as many potential victims
also has six times the pool of perpetrators, so the effect of that
disproportion should be perfectly offsetting arithmetically.

the relative crime stats would be moderated if adjusted for
socioeconomic status (from astronomical to merely stratospheric), but by
no means inverted.

The baseline conclusion is straightforward,
even if surprising to readers who are victims themselves — victims of
racial and racist propaganda. The hysterical public mantra of epidemic
white-on-black violence is thus exposed as fraud.

DanF said...

Is there a "Black America?" I know FoxNews America really craves a unified (and angry) Black America. I know there is a Black American perspective, but I'm sure that there is more variance in that perspective than forty years ago. I know that I've held constructs of what Black America is at various times in my life, but as I've aged, I see those constructs as something that kept me from seeing the people for what they really are.

But if you're going to force me into a construct, I'll stick with political constructs as Black Americans do have overwhelmingly vote in similar patterns. I think politically Black America votes for candidates that seek a fair playing field and not domination or retribution (FoxNews likes to refer to these politicians as race hustlers, but I don't think they fully grok what the alternative to Maxine Waters, John Conyers, or Charlie Rangel should by all rights look like). I think Black America has been persistent and patient about wanting to have a serious conversation about race, and although progress is measured in inches and not miles, I think there are signs that that conversation is starting to happen at a deeper level. I think the voice of Black America in politics has been exclusively a positive message about changing hearts and minds through peaceful action.

DanF said...

I suspect trolly troll's comment will be deleted, but assuming you give a shit about reality, read this:

rikyrah said...

don't know if you got notice of it..

There have been two young Black men in the news..

One who got into 5 Ivy League Schools..

The other got into all 8 Ivies....

and, yesterday, WaPo published a bitchass editorial about ' Why the Ivies aren't important anymore'.

Can we stop obsessing on the Ivy League?
By Valerie Strauss, Published: APRIL 01, 4:32 PM ET

Have you heard yet about 17-year-old Kwasi Enin of Shirley, N.Y., who applied to all of the eight schools in the Ivy League and got into every single one? If not, you are, by now, the only one.

To be Young, Gifted and Black really is a crime in certain parts of this country...huge whole swaths of this country.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Tim Wise covered the Color of Crime, which is where Smoo picked up that crap back in 2004 with The Color of Deception

For Joe Smoo: All you have to say is, "I'm racist and I really hate black people" all the thinking has been done for you historically to ally with that mentality, so you don't need to keep trying to justify it, it's an American tradition.

Buddy H said...

fuck you and your cut-and-paste post. (check your line breaks next time you decide to copy and paste your "opinion")

I had an old white racist tell me that blacks (ten percent of the population) commit ninety percent of the crimes. I told him that blacks were more likely to be locked up for crimes that whites got away with. I've seen it myself: in the wealthy suburbs, the college kids are smoking weed like it's going out of style. They stroll into my friend's smoke shop and buy expensive glass pipes and bongs. The police don't bother them while they stay high every morning noon and night. Meanwhile, in the black neighborhood, the police recently invaded a house, shot a small dog to death, and handcuffed every occupant, because one black teenager sold ten dollars worth of weed. So again, fuck you and your fake statistics.
The biggest menace to America is smileys like you.

Courtney H. said...

@ rikyah:

I'm so glad that you brought this up. Here are two articles that I read yesterday about the reaction to the two teens' academic success (the second article responds specifically to the WaPo article):

Courtney H said...

@ rikyrah:

I am so glad that you mentioned this! Here is an article about the racist reaction to the academic success of these two teens:

And here is an article that responds specifically to the WaPo article:

The Sanity Inspector said...

That penultimate paragraph sounds very Baldwin-ish: "I am not an object of missionary charity. I am not a ward of America. I am one of those who built the country."

chauncey devega said...

That is a nice complement. Ideas are in the ether, maybe one of those nights reading in college or high school some bit of language got imprinted somewhere along the way. What is your favorite Baldwin or Ellison or others in the vein? Always good to learn something from folks who are more literate than me.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Oh, I'm not especially well read at all; I just have an eye for pull quotes.