“Not Just Racism”

As he often does, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes an important and fundamental point about the frequent suggestions that white hostility to Barack Obama is “not just about race” (and that’s generally from the left-of-center folk who are willing to suggest it’s ever at all “about race”):

The problem with these formulations is that they are utterly ahistorical. There is no history of racism in this country that chalked “up only to race.” You can’t really talk about stereotypes of, say, black laziness unless you understand stereotypes of the poor stretching back to 17th century Great Britain…. You can’t really talk about the Southern slave society without grappling with the relationship between the demand for arable land and the demand for labor. You can’t understand the racial pogroms at the turn of the century without understanding the increasing mobility of American women….

In sum, there is very little about racism that can be chalked “only up to race.” Chalking up slavery, itself, only to race is a deeply distorting oversimplification. The profiling that young black males endure can’t chalked up “only to race” either. It’s also their youth and their gender. Complicating racism with other factors doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it racism. Again.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.