The election of Barack Obama promised to inaugurate the dawn of a post-racial America. Instead we seem to be stepping ever deeper into a racial quagmire. The past two month saw the violent commemoration of the Ferguson protests, “the celebration” of the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots, new police shootings in places as distant as Cincinnati and Fort Worth, and renewed disorder, tied to a police-related shooting, in St. Louis last week.
When President Obama was elected, two-thirds of Americans thought race relations were good. Now six in ten think they are bad, according to a New York Times poll, including some 68 percent of African Americans.
This extreme alienation creates a rich soil for resurgence of a cramped form of black nationalism, as revealed in such widely read books as Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Coates, like the black nationalists of the ’60s, is fawned over by today’s progressive gentry. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott gushed that Coates’s writing is “essential, like water or air.” Yet the new nationalists do not, like many previous iterations, look to Africa for salvation, and as a potential place of re-settlement. Instead they may look to Africa for inspiration, but seem content to stew in the American racial cauldron, always apart but also here.
Yet to this reader, it’s hard to regard Coates’s book as anything more than a narrow selfie that holds little hope for any future racial progress.
Demagogues gonna demagogue. They gain wealth and power from division. If most people suffer, that’s immaterial.
Worst president ever.