I hope Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg his proud. He fired Kevin D. Williamson not for anything he wrote for the magazine, but because of something he said on a podcast years earlier. And this morning, he publishes racist crackpottery like this, from — who else? — Ta-Nehisi Coates:
And [Michael Jackson] had always been dying—dying to be white. That was what my mother said, that you could see the dying all over his face, the decaying, the thinning, that he was disappearing into something white, desiccating into something white, erasing himself, so that we would forget that he had once been Africa beautiful and Africa brown, and we would forget his pharaoh’s nose, forget his vast eyes, his dazzling smile, and Michael Jackson was but the extreme of what felt in those post-disco years to be a trend. Because when I think of that time, I think of black men on album covers smiling back at me in Jheri curls and blue contacts and I think of black women who seemed, by some mystic edict, to all be the color of manila folders. Michael Jackson might have been dying to be white, but he was not dying alone. There were the rest us out there, born, as he was, in the muck of this country, born in The Bottom. We knew that we were tied to him, that his physical destruction was our physical destruction, because if the black God, who made the zombies dance, who brokered great wars, who transformed stone to light, if he could not be beautiful in his own eyes, then what hope did we have—mortals, children—of ever escaping what they had taught us, of ever escaping what they said about our mouths, about our hair and our skin, what hope did we ever have of escaping the muck? And he was destroyed. It happened right before us. God was destroyed, and we could not stop him, though we did love him, we could not stop him, because who can really stop a black god dying to be white?
Well, who can really stop a black god dying to write purple? Clearly no Atlantic copy editor. More:
What Kanye West seeks is what Michael Jackson sought—liberation from the dictates of that we. In his visit with West, the rapper T.I. was stunned to find that West, despite his endorsement of Trump, had never heard of the travel ban. “He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it don’t reach him,” T.I. said. West calls his struggle the right to be a “free thinker,” and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, pussy grabbers, and fuck you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas.
It would be nice if those who sought to use their talents as entrée into another realm would do so with the same care which they took in their craft. But the Gods are fickle and the history of this expectation is mixed. Stevie Wonder fought apartheid. James Brown endorsed a racist Nixon. There is a Ray Lewis for every Colin Kaepernick, an O.J. Simpson for every Jim Brown, or, more poignantly, just another Jim Brown. And we suffer for this, because we are connected. Michael Jackson did not just destroy his own face, but endorsed the destruction of all those made in similar fashion.
The consequences of Kanye West’s unlettered view of America and its history are, if anything, more direct. For his fans, it is the quality of his art that ultimately matters, not his pronouncements. If his upcoming album is great, the dalliance with Trump will be prologue. If it’s bad, then it will be foreshadowing. In any case what will remain is this—West lending his imprimatur, as well as his Twitter platform of some 28 million people, to the racist rhetoric of the conservative movement.
Oh dear lord, really? Isn’t it possible to write criticism of a hip-hop artist’s political choices without accusing him of acting white? More to the point — and this really is the point — by what right does Ta-Nehisi Coates declare that everything he hates about the world is the fault of white people at liberty to act white?
I don’t like Donald Trump either, but nobody accuses me of being anti-white because of that? By what right does Ta-Nehisi Coates judge Kanye West’s political views “unlettered,” much less anti-black?
Does Coates really believe that to be white is to be inherently evil? And that to be authentically black is to sign up to the social and cultural politics of the contemporary left. Kanye West decides that he likes Donald Trump — a decision that puts him at odds with tens of millions of anti-Trump whites, by the way — and now Coates blames him for, well, look:
It is the young people among the despised classes of America who will pay a price for this—the children parted from their parents at the border, the women warring to control the reproductive organs of their own bodies, the transgender soldier fighting for his job, the students who dare not return home for fear of a “travel ban,” which West is free to have never heard of.
This is weapons-grade stupidity. It would appear from this piece that the only thing Ta-Nehisi Coates takes more seriously than black celebrity is Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Look, taking celebrity politics too seriously is easy to do. The other day, U2 publicly endorsed repeal of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law, thereby disappointing legions of Christian fans of a band that has never hid its association with Christianity. Today, a writer in First Things accuses the band of selling out not just its Christian fans, but rock and roll.
Dude. Come on. They’re not gods. They play instruments and sing. That is no guarantee of wisdom, political or otherwise. I was disappointed, even angered, by what U2 did here, but they aren’t the successors to the Apostles, or anything. To feel so betrayed by rock stars — or hip-hop artists — is to have expected way too much of them.
The problem with Coates is not that he overreacted to Kanye West’s craziness. Kanye West has been a hot mess for a long time. The problem is that Coates reflexively racializes everything. He used to be somebody good, Ta-Nehisi Coates — good in the sense that he was a sensitive writer who thought and said interesting things. Then racial anxiety wasted his mind. Now he makes millions by catering to the racial anxieties of guilty white liberals like Jeffrey Goldberg. If you missed it last week, take a look at this piece about the recent open meeting Goldberg and Coates held with the staff of The Atlantic, at which they discussed the Williamson firing. It’s illuminating, especially this excerpt:
Goldberg: Do you think The Atlantic would be diminished if we narrowed the bounds of acceptability in ideological discourse, even as we grow in diversity?
Coates: Again, I don’t think it’s a question of narrowing. I think it’s where the lines are drawn.
Goldberg: Well, it is if you bring the lines in.
Coates: Well, no, you open it up. You understand what I’m saying? Like, as I said before, I don’t think 15 years ago or 20 years ago we would have ran “The Case For Reparations.” So that means it’s opened up in a different direction. I think if we publish kick-ass stories, very little of this will actually matter.
So, now we know where one particular line is drawn: straight-up anti-white racism is within the acceptability of ideological discourse at The Atlantic — traditionally a magazine of liberal-leaning centrism. And they didn’t even get a kick-ass story here! Only a badly overwritten lament for a black celebrity’s pro-Trump meltdown.
Alas for Jeffrey Goldberg’s stewardship of the Atlantic’s legacy: A magazine is a terrible thing to waste.
UPDATE: I mean, think about it. What if Kevin D. Williamson had submitted a piece to The Atlantic claiming that “black freedom” is the freedom for men to abandon their children, the freedom to [insert social pathology disproportionately associated with the black community]? Do you think it would have seen the light of day? Of course not, nor should it have.
The fact that (white and other) liberals like Goldberg, who occupy positions of real power over the mainstream discourse in this country, think it’s perfectly fine for a writer to assign maleficent characteristics to entire races tells you a lot about why we are in the mess we’re in. This would be a career-killer for any white writer who voiced racist opinions like that. But it’s just another day at the office for Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the Liberal Cultural-Industrial Complex that validates and promotes his brand of racism.
UPDATE.2: Reader Northmoor parodies Coates:
And Bruce Jenner had always been dying—dying to be feminine. That was what my mother said, that you could see the dying all over his face, the decaying, the thinning, that he was disappearing into something feminine, depilating into something feminine, erasing himself, so that we would forget that he had once been Masculine beautiful and Masculine strong, and we would forget his rippling muscles, forget his Adam’s apple . . . Because when I think of these times, I think of bearded Eurovision contest winners smiling back at me in sequined dresses and too much eye mascara and I think of teenage boys who seem, by some mystic edict, to all be attired in the same rainbow fashion palette with visions of bottom surgery dancing in their heads. Bruce Jenner might have been dying to be feminine, but he was not dying alone. There were the rest of us out there, born, as he was, in the muck of this country, born in The Bottom. We knew that we were tied to him, that his physical destruction was our physical destruction, because if the athletic God, who made the javelins fly, who shattered world records, who waved the flag in a proud victory lap, if he could not be beautiful in his own eyes, then what hope did we have — mortals, run-of-the-mill guys — of ever escaping what they had taught us, of ever escaping what they said about our toxic masculinity, about our rape culture and our violent natures, what hope did we ever have of escaping the muck? And he was destroyed. It happened right before us. God was destroyed, and we could not stop him, though we did love him, we could not stop him, because who can really stop a God who wants to be a Goddess?