The white liberal celebration of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ hatred of white people (and, of course, this country) continues. Last night, he received the National Book Award for nonfiction, and in his acceptance speech he reflected on the book’s central theme — how the tragic police killing of a black friend changed the course of his life:
Coates’s friend — Prince Carmen Jones — was killed by a black cop who worked in the black-run police department in a black-run county. Yet that killing is what led Coates to feel this on September 11 — and the person who without apology or regret expressed this hatred is now the toast of liberal America:
“I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died. They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could—with no justification—shatter my body.”
Well, not all of liberal America is toasting Coates. Maybe, just maybe, the days of Coates-worship are numbered. The American Prospect just published perhaps the most scathing review of Coates’s book yet seen in a leftist publication. Randall Kennedy, one of Harvard Law School’s most esteemed professors (I learned much from him during my own time at HLS) demolishes much of Coates’s argument, calling him out for his intellectual sloppiness. A sample:
Coates writes that “what one ‘means’ is neither important nor relevant. It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.”
Hold it. Are we to take seriously the proposition that “what one ‘means’ is neither important nor relevant”? Consider the following: I hit you with my car. Is it irrelevant whether I mean to hit you (a serious crime) or whether my hitting you was inadvertent (at most a tort for which I may have to compensate you for injuries sustained)? Shouldn’t it matter greatly whether a police officer said (a) that he meant to kill a suspect, or (b) that he did not mean to kill a suspect although the suspect did, in fact, die as a result of the officer’s conduct? The claim that intentions do not and should not matter is a notion that is bandied about casually in some circles. But it is an erroneous, vacuous, mischievous notion that a thoughtful person should abjure.
An important concept in Coates’s book is what he refers to as “The Dream.” He defines it only vaguely. He seems to intend for it to refer to a myth about the United States that he suspects that many Americans believe is real—the image of the noble, innocent, well-intentioned, generous country that is open, full of opportunity, and committed to liberty and justice for all . . . Those who believe in the Dream, Coates maintains, are not only misguided; they are dangerous. The Dreamers, he writes, “are pillaging Ferguson … they are torturing Muslims, and their drones are bombing wedding parties. … [The] Dreamers are quoting Martin Luther King and exulting nonviolence for the weak and the biggest guns for the strong. … The Dreamers accept this as the cost of doing business, accept our bodies as currency, because it is their tradition.”
Given the disparate nature of the acts noted, not to mention the variety of those engaging in the conduct he scorns, I am not at all sure about whom Coates is speaking when he refers to “Dreamers.” Sometimes he seems to be referring exclusively to whites. Hence he writes: “We [black folks] have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers [white folks] and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.” In describing the depredations of Dreamers, however, Coates leaves unaddressed a puzzling ambiguity. After all, the person in control of the United States drones that have bombed wedding parties is a black American—President Barack Obama. Is he a Dreamer?
The core problem of the book, according to Kennedy, is that Coates denies black agency:
Echoing Ellison, I maintain that within the confines of a still-racist America, blacks—including black cops—have the wherewithal to do bad things that are not properly attributable to white racism. Just as blacks have done wonderful things independently of white domination—consider the blues, gospel, jazz, and rap—so, too, have blacks done dastardly things independently of white domination. Consider bigotry by African Americans that cannot properly be excused as mere black imitations of white folks’ vices.
I used to enjoy reading Coates. His writings — particularly on the Civil War — were thought-provoking and often represented the best expression of a far-left point of view on race and history. Now, however, his reason seems choked out by rage.