Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
Richard Cohen "Christie’s tea-party problem"

The problem here isn't that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn't actually racist, but "conventional" or "culturally conservative." Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn't racism, then there is no racism.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "Richard Cohen in Context"

If Mr. Cohen is going to claim that the revulsion of "people with conventional views" is something other than racism, that's fine. But, given American history as we understand it, he acquires for himself the burden of explaining what their revulsion is. And this, if history is any indication, would be a tough row to hoe, even if Mr. Cohen had sought to attempt it.

Making the case that "the races" shouldn't mingle is an exceedingly difficult thing to get right, if it's possible at all, because there is no biological construct around most conceptualizations of "race," outside of outward appearance and/or presumed continent of origin. Nomenclature isn't useful - in common American parlance, I'm Black - yet an Indian co-worker who was of clearly darker skin tone than myself was Brown - as was the Chinese co-worker we were attempting to explain this to. And, according to a book I own that was first published in the 19th century illustrates, it wasn't all that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, when "race" was considered synonymous with "nationality."

Mr. Cohen's refusal to attempt the task may be understandable, in light of it's difficulty, but this makes it no less necessary. After all, if it looks like a duck and swims like a duck, people may be excused for believing that it is, in fact, a duck.

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