Atlantic: Ta-Nehisi Coates: More excuses for racists

Atlantic: Ta-Nehisi Coates

More excuses for racists

Nicholas Kristof makes an interesting point this morning:

Senator Obama is facing what scholars have dubbed “racism without racists.”

Before I go forward I want to be clear about a couple things. Kristof’s column is puzzling because by the end he concedes that, in fact, these people are racists (averse racists, one scholar calls them). But more importantly, there is this: too much has been made about the effects of white racism on the presidential contest. I’m tired of hearing about it. If It’s not some guy telling us that Obama that he has to woo racists, it’s some other guy telling us he’s going to lose because of them. I thought that the Yahoo story Kristof pillories was bunk. As I’ve said before, I have no idea how many votes Barack Obama will lose because he’s black, or gain because he’s black. And at this point, I just don’t care.

But there is a certain strain of argument that seeks to make excuses for the bigots among us. Somehow the civil rights struggle has been defined down to getting white people to have a beer with us. So if you profess to “earnestly believe in equal rights,” you aren’t a racist–even as you actively discriminate against black people. This is civil rights reduced to some sort of citizenship pledge. David Duke doesn’t think he’s racist. Michael Richards ranted “he’s a nigger” on stage, but was shocked to be called a racist.

But really racism was always at its worst because it was invisible and insidious. The worst thing about housing segregation wasn’t that blacks couldn’t live around whites–it was that whites actively sought to rob black communities of wealth. The worst thing about school segregation wasn’t that black children didn’t go to school with white children–it was that whites defunded black schools. This is what led Malcolm to denigrate integration as the right to sit next to white people on the toilet.

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