Why Can Ta-Nehisi Coates Get Away With Racial Slurs?

Why Can Ta-Nehisi Coates Get Away With Racial Slurs?

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates can utter a perfectly racist declaration in a national news magazine and receive no flak for it whatsoever.
Daniel Payne
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Ta-Nehisi Coates has a problem with white people. The liberal writer was recently profiled in New York Magazine, and like much of the media treatment he receives, the profile is heavy-handed to an almost comical degree. Nobody in the progressive establishment, it seems, is capable of discussing Coates without peeing their pants in excitement.

Indeed, Coates is held in such absurdly high esteem by his reader base that to criticize him in any way is to invite an outraged Internet mob to descend upon you. The academic Fredrik deBoer, for instance, recently had the temerity to suggest that Coates may not be as good as his insanely devoted fans think he is, an opinion that earned him the furious opprobrium of a bunch of Coates’s insanely devoted fans.

DeBoer’s criticism was fairly mundane: Coates’s writing is “fine…but not genius,” he’s “a good writer, not a transcendent one,” and his work “often stirs [deBoer] intellectually and emotionally” but “doesn’t move [him] to the kind of ecstasy that it seems to move so many others.” As far as literary appraisals go, this is at worst benign. In fact, it is obvious that deBoer thinks very highly of Coates’s writing skills.

This did not forestall a swift and aggressive Twitter outburst from Coates’s readership, however. Indeed, Coates was sufficiently wounded enough to personally fire back at deBoer. It is hard to argue with deBoer’s point that people give Coates too much credit, particularly when Coates himself is apparently displeased with anything but the most unqualified praise of his work.

I, for one, agree with deBoer: Coates is a markedly fine writer, and his talents do deserve a good deal of praise—just not the outlandish amount he usually receives. The profile in New York Magazine, sadly, has more than a whiff of such hero-worship. Some of the article is actually interesting, and serves as an interesting look at Coates’s life.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Displays Bigotry

Yet, sadly, at the outset of this piece, we are shown that Coates, for all the adulation he receives, is actually a remarkably narrow-minded and unpleasant person, as we find at the end of the article’s third paragraph: “When people who are not black are interested in what I do, frankly, I’m always surprised,” Coates said. “I don’t know if it’s my low expectations for white people or what.”

We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking such rhetoric is anything other than repulsive prejudice.

It is entirely fashionable, of course, for progressives to speak sneeringly and dismissively of “white people.” Coates is not the first person to evince such casual racism, and he will surely not be the last. Common as this low and ugly form of bigotry is, however, it’s still a wonder people put up with it to the degree that we do.

Imagine, for a minute, if a white writer—for the sake of argument, say, a guy named Daniel Payne, at, say, a fictional publication called the Federalist—expressed surprise that “people who are not white” ever read his work: “I don’t know if it’s my low expectations for black people or what,” he would remark. Would you be impressed at the jaded profundity of such a statement? Or would you think, “Gee, Daniel Payne sounds like a racist jerk?”

Your response would obviously and correctly be the latter. So it is worth wondering why we are willing to let a very visible, very popular writer like Coates off the hook for an identical statement. We have become used to leftists and liberals spouting off hateful remarks about “white people” for years, so much so that we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking such rhetoric is anything other than repulsive prejudice. It is why Coates can utter a perfectly racist declaration in a national news magazine and receive no flak for it whatsoever.

Why This Kind of Racism Is Okay

Part of this is of Coates’s own doing. Over the years, he has carefully and deliberately crafted a public personality of almost laughable cynicism and frigid disillusionment with America and Americans, and having “low expectations for white people” is perfectly in line with this kind of affected negativity.

Many people actually believe it’s acceptable to think about and treat white people differently because of the color of their skin.

Part of it is that we’ve simply inured ourselves to the semi-frequent instances of anti-white racism from the liberal class. And part of it is that many people actually believe it’s acceptable to think about and treat white people differently because of the color of their skin: in much of academia, for instance, or in the provincial and petty circles in which Coates presumably spends his time.

One of the great American success stories since our country’s founding has been the incalculable improvement in race relations in this country over the past 50 years or so. While it was easy to find anti-black racists in many parts of the country prior to the mid-1960s, you will now have to search with some difficulty to find someone who believes blacks are inferior to whites—and such opinions are not spoken of in polite society, less one incur others’ (appropriate and commendable) censure.

Yet it is still perfectly acceptable to be a racist towards white people. Indeed, you can get profiled in New York Magazine while you’re doing it. This is not racial progress; it is a crude and loathsome regression.

Daniel Payne is a senior contributor at The Federalist. He currently runs the blog Trial of the Century, and lives in Virginia.
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