A Deeper Black By Ta-Nehisi Coates appears in the May 1 edition of The Nation. It’s an unfavorable review of Shelby Steele’s book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. In it Coates presents a picture of Obama’s supposedly ‘post-racial’ candidacy as not that at all; it shows instead ‘a deeper black,’ which is due to Obama’s acceptance of his ethnic identity and his construal of that as on a par with other ethnic identities.
I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of days and have wondered whether there’s a comparable shift that women can make or that some women have already made. And then this morning I received noticer of a new APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, which has a number of valuable, thoughtful articles on race and gender. I suddenly realized that in effect the Coates review poses a question for feminist philosophy that we might do well to be aware of. The question isn’t easy to formulate, and indeed there might be different versions of it, but its basis can be found in this comment:
This is the blackness of Barack Obama. It is an identity that asserts itself without conscious thought. It has no need of marches and placards. It rejects an opportunistic ignorance of racism but understands that esoteric ramblings about white-skin privilege do not move the discussion further. It does not need to bluster, to scream, to hyperbolize. Obama’s blackness is like any other secure marker of identity, subtle and irreducible to a list of demands.
And now I’m wondering whether my attitude toward the ubiquitous sexism of the academy is a good model or analogue for the experience of racism, as I realize I had assumed it was. If the place of racism is much more complicated in the lives of black students than we others might have thought, what implications does that have for our teaching? Is Coates’ comment about irrelevant esoteric rambling something we should be taking to our methodology? Or on a par with other students’ complaints about our wordy and out of date texts? These questions are just that: questions. What do you think?
Two more quotes may give you a fuller picture of what Coates is saying:
This is why all the fuss over how much or how little Obama addresses racism misses the point. Obama mentions white racism about as often as black people actually think about white racism–which is to say rarely.
… Survey the average voter in Harlem, Detroit or West Baltimore, ask her to rank her presidential concerns and see where “reparations” or “abolishing the Confederate flag” compares with, say, “healthcare” or “ending the war.” In the wake of Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia, the pundits swooned, marveling specifically at Obama’s willingness to say that those who fled inner-city America, who opposed affirmative action, were not racist.
… To see Obama’s point as a mark of courage or even a concession, you’d have to imagine a black America that woke up, every morning, thinking only about welfare and affirmative action. …
… there is nothing “postracial,” “postblack” or “transcendental” about it. … Indeed, it is a deeper black, the mark of a less defensive, more self-assured African-American leadership. Our forebears, God bless them, held blackness like an albatross, which they sought to affix around the neck of white America. But this generation, Obama’s generation, holds blackness like a garland, sure in the knowledge that the only neck it belongs around is our own.