Monday, May 26, 2008

A Deeper Black by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I officially want to be Ta-Nehisi Coates when I grow up. I've been reading his blog for about a month now (and can't wait to read his new memoir) and find him consistently thoughtful and spot on on contemporary culture and politics. Plus, his prose is a great pleasure to read. (He also outs himself as a gamer in this piece, and I'm always happy to find another afrogeek.)

In a recent post I attempted to articulate some thoughts about Obama' blackness. In a "A Deeper Black," Coates does a much better job of making the same point:

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.

If this election has taught us nothing else, it's taught us that we have very little language to talk about blackness in this country. The absurdity of the Wright controversy, the ceaseless sexism vs. racism debates, the descriptions of Obama and his campaign as post-racial all point to how little the mainstream media actually knows about the actual lives of real black people. Coates's piece is great because it not only grants black people complexity, as individuals and as a group, but also because he treats that complexity not as a great revelation, but as a matter of fact. He writes of his time at Howard, "From their unspoken variety, from the Alphas and Omegas, from the buoyant Afros and long dreads, from the night-blacks to those who were almost passing, I drew the great lesson that black was a country, a broad, beautiful America refracted through a smoky lens."

And maybe, just maybe, as black people waited and listened and deliberated as Obama made his appeal to them, they saw that he got that. A lot is made of Obama's avoidance of race or his unwillingness to play the race card (can we officially put that term out of its misery?) in this campaign, but maybe he gets what the pundits don't--to speak to black America about race alone is to speak to us about very little and to demonstrate that you don't know very much about us.

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