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Talking about race in America

Talking about race in America

Chris Hayes gathers MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, The Atlantic magazine editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, Totally Biased host W. Kamau Bell and WBAI-FM host Jay Smooth to talk about Coates’ latest article “Fear of a Black President.”

The video clip runs 13 minutes. The discussion is drawing praise on social media. What are your thoughts?

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An excerpt from Coates’ latest:

By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.”

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama’s insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina’s effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy—white supremacy. The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.


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well, I finally read the Atlantic essay, and it is well worth the read. It’s a great, one-man survey of black&white relations in the USA.

Kevin McGrane


I saw it once last night and I enjoyed it, and at the same time I was a bit bothered by it’s over-intellectualization (if I may use that term; I’m not sure if it’s a real word). I am bothered by language that further complicates the complicated. It tells me someone hasn’t thought hard enough about what they are saying.

That said, racism intrigues and repels me, as well as conversations about it. I’m not sure if it is an issue in our country that will ever be resolved. There is just so much anger and suspicion between people. No one every seems to be satisfied, or could be.

There is a theory among some biologists that the next major development in homo sapiens is the amalgamation of the races, turning us into one species. This will take millenia, they say, but it is already happening. I suppose this will be the final solution, so to speak.

Kevin McGrane

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