Twitter: @dhnexon, @hilzoy, & Friends: I am so TIRED of people asking why TNC does not "give us hope".":
@dhnexon: I've spent the past 2 days rereading @thomaschattwill critique of @tanehisicoates in the NYT for a post on the 'new' race vs. class debate. I'm afraid to say that I'm not a fan.
Coates' oeuvre rests on careful documentation of the political economy of durable black-white inequality. Political scientists can easily recognize his argument as rooted in what we would call "historical institutionalism." Its foundations are emphatically not rooted in essentialist cultural categories or some Hegelian national spirit. And it's persuasive.
Indeed, Coates essentially popularizes what a lot of scholars in this area already know (this is not a criticism). From slavery, to the de facto serfdom of sharecropping, to Jim Crow racial authoritarianism, to racial bias in the New Deal, to redlining (and on and on), US political economy undermined the accumulation of economic & educational capital in black communities.
The pattern is similar—albeit more intense—to other manifestations of durable inequality, such as class in England.
For an explanation of why I keep using the term "durable inequality," see this @dlittle30 post: https://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2012/07/durable-inequality.html.
So when @tanehisicoates writes about gentrification, he's not being mystical or strange He's both figuratively & literally correct. The existence of black urban communities, with depressed housing values and residents without household wealth? That's the direct legacy of specific discriminatory policies! So is the fact that young, educ. whites enjoy capital & credit to gentrify. The fact that gentrification is not simply being carried out by whites is not really relevant. As is how Williams "feels" about it.
Of course some African Americans will succeed in an non-level playing field. Of course those neither black and white will face different structural conditions. But what makes Williams' response even more ????. There is zero contradiction between @tanehisicoates account of racialized inequality and the existence of class inequality. Indeed, at an abstract level, similar social & political mechanisms are at work in durable black inequality and decreasing class mobility. But you cannot deny the specific, intense, and still-consequential policies of economic oppression faced by African Americans.
Look at this way: the economic and political opportunities of indigenous Americans are still structured by 100+ years of ethnic cleansing. Does attention to that particular axis of durable inequality invalidate that faced by African Americans? Obviously not. Or, in less elliptical terms: black inequality in the US is a case of class inequality. The marker isn't accent, but skin color.
All of this basically invalidates foundations for Williams' claim that Coates' discussion of race is ideologically isomorphic with Nazis.
But let's push this further. This bog-standard "anti-identarian" leftwing claim, which some liberals are fawning over, gets it backwards. White nationalists have embraced the rhetoric of racial social justice as a propaganda ploy to mainstream their claims. This isn't new, but it's gotten more sophisticated recently. But that does not make their claims in any way correct. None of the 'new socialists' who embrace this line would ever say 'I should stop criticizing capitalism b/c fascists do as well.'
Anyway, I'll stop now. I'll leave with this from Williams' piece, just to emphasize how completely out of step it is w/ Coates' claims:
what is so unsettling about Mr. Coates’s recent writing and the tenor of the leftist “woke” discourse he epitomizes. Though it is not at all morally equivalent, it is nonetheless in sync with the toxic premises of white supremacism. Both sides eagerly reduce people to abstract color categories, all the while feeding off of and legitimizing each other, while those of us searching for gray areas and common ground get devoured twice. Both sides mystify racial identity, interpreting it as something fixed, determinative and almost supernatural. For Mr. Coates, whiteness is a “talisman,” an “amulet” of “eldritch energies” that explains all injustice; for the abysmal early-20th-century Italian fascist and racist icon Julius Evola, it was a “meta-biological force,” a collective mind-spirit that justifies all inequality. In either case, whites are preordained to walk that special path. It is a dangerous vision of life we should refuse no matter who is doing the conjuring.
@SandyDarity: I must add that it's a misrepresentation of Coates' position to assert that he treats race and class as juxtaposed, rather than intertwined.
@dcrockett17: @davidroediger's "The Retreat from Race and Class" is SOOO good about this kind of very type of misrepresentation.
@SandyDarity: Great commentary and thread!...
@hilzoy: Because the TNC I read does not "reduce people to color categories." (He's really astute when writing about individuals, e.g. Obama.) Maybe @thomasschattwill writes from some Twin Earth in which there is a different, much more boring, writer named Ta-Nehisi Coates? I dunno.
And -- oh well -- while I'm on the topic: I am so TIRED of people asking why TNC does not "give us hope".
As I see it, any writer who thinks about really interesting things in a really interesting way has given me a great gift. If he leaves me turning things over in my mind, thinking: I hadn't thot about it that way before, but that makes sense!, I'm in his debt. If he's a gorgeous writer to boot, that's icing on the cake. But the main thing is: he brings me News From Elsewhere, meaning his mind.
It would be ungrateful of me to say: in addition to these gifts, you didn't give me hope, you meanie! Worse if I complain publicly. Because lots of people don't enrich my life at all. (No reason why they should; they don't know me.) But TNC did. So why complain? Especially since he's writing abt a topic that it's hard to be hopeful about. "Giving us hope" can be inconsistent with honesty.
And he would stop being the writer he is if he stopped being honest. We have lots of hopeful people, but only one TNC. Besides that, think of all the bleak writers who are not asked to be, in addition to everything, hopeful.
No one would write: "Hey, Sylvia Plath, why so glum? You owe it to us to give us hope about gender relations!" People who want to be cheered up can go read The Power of Positive Thinking. We have lots of that stuff. But only one Plath. A cheerful Sylvia Plath, even a Sylvia Plath who gave the goal of making us hopeful any space in her head, wd be no Sylvia Plath at all.
Why no happy Dostoevsky? Why no smiling joyous Kierkegaard? Why was the Prophet Jeremiah so unconcerned with cheering us up? Obvious answer: what they had to say was not cheerful. You don't get to choose between happy Kierkegaard and angst-ridden Kierkegaard. We get angst-ridden Kierkegaard, suicidal Plath, despairing Jeremiah, or we get nothing. No smiley option. Personally, I'd rather cut off a limb than be deprived of some of these writers. Ditto TNC, and for the same reason. He makes me think.
Maintaining hope in the midst of enormous odds is our job. We should not expect anyone to have to provide it for us.
But the very LAST ppl we shd ask to do this are ppl who are already doing sth glorious that they cd not do if they had to do this too. 1 reply 2 retweets 1 like
End of sermon.