April 10, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait — occupants of "a similar niche of thoughtful progressive journalism" — are having an intra-niche spat about race.

I've been avoiding getting up to speed on this, because Chait's article is really long, and it has to do with something Paul Ryan said a while back, which occupants of that "thoughtful progressive" niche purveyed as racist and which I did not blog. I noticed Joan Walsh at Salon opining on the Chait-Coates spat, but it was obvious that she was talking to readers who'd been hanging out in the niche, being thoughtfully progressive and progressively thoughtful together, and that made it short but inscrutable to a non-nicher.

But now here's Clare Sestanovicha, at The Atlantic, with "Black Culture and Progressivism/What started as a discussion of Paul Ryan's comments by has [sic] turned into a revealing debate on the nature of liberal politics in the United States." It might be readable, assuming you're looking for an entry point. Excerpt:
Chait and Coates continue to parse the original subject they sat down to write about, the question of whether it is fair to identify—and, in turn, vilify—a “black culture,” or even a “culture of poverty.”...

Coates aligns his own vision with Malcolm X’s assessment : “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches, and say you’re making progress.” This view offends both Chait’s optimism and pragmatism. It “defines out of existence the very possibility of steady progress.” He is looking for something in between this view, whose inflexibility leaves no room for conversation, and that “cheerful rubric of American progress,” whose naïve revisionism is anathema to any good modern historian.

This search seems reasonable: After all, who wouldn’t want to find a loophole in the kind of hopelessness that Malcolm X’s vision evokes? Coates himself says he understands this instinct. He admits that “he had always considered a vaguely defined ‘hope’ to be a prerequisite for writing.”
ADDED: I'm just adding this to make it obvious that the previous 3 paragraphs are indented, i.e., that they are a quote and the writing is Sestanovicha's.


Brando said...

I'd suggest using different color type or fonts to indicate what you're quoting vs. what your reactions are to the quotes.

Lyssa said...

You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches, and say you’re making progress.” This view offends both Chait’s optimism and pragmatism. It “defines out of existence the very possibility of steady progress.”

Both of these are terrible, because they assume that there even is a defined and agreed means of what "progress" even means. Knife wounds are simple - you remove the weapon and stop the bleeding, repair any damage. The knife doesn't change course based on unintended incentives; the human body generally does what we expect it to; we can all agree that the problem is solved when the bleeding stops and the damage is repaired.

Social problems are hard, and we don't know what works, or even what "works" means.

Brando said...

Coates is incredibly creative to have found a way to blame white supremacy on a system where East Asian, South Asian and Jewish immigrants have thrived to a greater degree than WASPs.

Though underneath his reflexive leftist-revolutionary way of looking at the world, he has hit upon something by accident. There are in fact many obstacles to black progress that are attributable to whites in power, including racial preferences, low expectations and a permissive culture that have managed to reduce every positive incentive that blacks have to improve themselves. And the worst part of it is that while a garden-variety bigot putting up a "whites only" sign may be easy to spot, the more subtle racism of reduced expectations is easy to mistake as well intentioned.

What else can better explain racial inequality several generations after racial discrimination has been illegalized? Particularly when nonwhite (and even African) immigrants who have not been long exposed to these issues have been prospering.

madAsHell said...

I hope they both lose.

Although, I'm sure that this is a pre-coordinated attack to increase click-thru.

Henry said...

Both Coates and Chait make really excellent points. Coates is right to criticize Obama and other progressives their manipulations. Chait is right to hang on to culture as an arbitrator of progress.

But a fundamentally idiotic aspect of this debate is both writers lazy generalization of "America". Here's Coates:

...there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and itself.

Paul Ryan specifically talked about "inner cities"*, which the thoughtful progressive -- "everyone else" -- in Sestanovicha's phrasing -- "understands to mean the culture of black people."

But even if "cities" does implicate black people, the word is still "cities." In evoking "America", Coates and Chait explicitly avoid the specific trigger of their own presumptions.

Most big cities in America have enormous budgets administered by politicians with tremendous police, educational, and economic power.

Most of these are run by Democrats, of both races; Many are run by Democrat-party machines. Some have long histories of progressive governance. New York City and Boston are run by explicitly progressive mayors.

Coates and Chait need to stop talking about "America" and start talking about actual cities.

* * *

*Where I question Ryan's judgment in this phrase is the implicit reduction of poverty as an urban problem. Rural poverty and rural unemployment is an enormous problem. Ryan is the one who should be talking about "America".

SJ said...

There is a segment of the White population of the United States that lives in a culture of poverty.

It's not large (as a proportion of Whites or of general population), but they exist and can be found.

I think a noticeably-large segment of the Black population of the United States has a similar problem: a culture of poverty.

The culture of poverty is one part (but not the only part) of the problems facing "the Black community" in the United States.

However, I notice that
(A) not all Blacks suffer from this
(B) the problems that certain Whites share with many Blacks are more noticeable among the Blacks, partly because of the way our culture views skin color, crime, and social/economic groups
(C) the problem of a culture of poverty is exacerbated, among the Blacks, by the effects of past racism
(D) racism is pretty much gone in society, but it is too easy to blame "racism" (the real racism of past, or the imagined racism of the present) for those problems that are caused by the culture of poverty

Honestly, the best thing I can think of is to address problems at the individual level, not the racial/tribal level. Because the problems that look like "problems of the Black community" are the effects of lots of individual-level problems.

However, I think all government social programs should be re-examined, based on what kind of culture is supported by those programs. Because culture matters, and what kind of culture is encouraged by official government actions also matters.

Illuninati said...

Coates said:
"Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past and the historical vestiges of which still afflict black people today .... I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life, whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust .…"

In other words, hatred between white and black people is eternal. Coates obviously blames white people but his attitude is typical of all racists who view members of the opposite race as unworthy because they are morally or physically inferior. Because of this inferiority the targeted race is responsible for a most of the ills which plague the good race.

Anonymous said...

"smart and shrewd voices"... "subtler strands of opinion"... "agreement interesting and disagreement intelligent"... "progressives thoughtfully but profoundly disagree"... "thoughtful progressive journalism"... "two intensely smart writers"...

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Lyle said...

Henry makes a great point. I've read Coates off and on for a while. His only perspective of America is from the couple of cities he has lived in. He's a terribly ignorant man. I say that with respect and all honesty.

The only thing that will fix the "inner cities" is the people living there. They need to start making some different choices. Some do and get out. They overcome the subculture and become something else. Nothing else can change the subculture other than people living it.

Fernandinande said...

What else can better explain racial inequality several generations after racial discrimination has been illegalized?

Big differences in group IQ, for one, even though Crimethink means we're supposed to pretend that it ain't so.

"But research in industrial and organization psychology (IOP) has repeatedly documented that tests and criteria such as those at issue in Griggs (which are heavily “g”-loaded and thus dependent on cognitive ability) remain the best predictors of performance for jobs at all levels of complexity. Second, Griggs and its progeny rest on the implicit assumption, reflected in the so-called 4/5 rule, that fair and valid hiring criteria will result in a workforce that roughly reflects the representation of each group in the background population. Work in psychometrics and labor economics shows that this assumption is unjustified. Because blacks lag significantly behind whites on measures of cognitive ability, most valid job selection criteria will have a substantial adverse impact on this group. The combination of well-documented racial differences in cognitive ability and the consistent link between ability and job performance generates a pattern that experts term “the validity-diversity tradeoff”: job selection devices that best predict future job performance generate the smallest number of minority hires in a broad range of positions. Indeed, the evidence indicates that most valid screening devices will have a significant adverse impact on blacks and will also violate the 4/5 rule under the law of disparate impact."

Coates is incredibly creative to have found a way to blame white supremacy on a system where East Asian, South Asian and Jewish immigrants have thrived to a greater degree than WASPs.

Group IQ difference again: the groups you list have higher average IQs than WASPs. (It's just a coincidence, I'm sure...)

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

TNC writes for connoisseurs of Orations on White Racism. Bill Gates had comments on the defense of a dysfunctional government aid system in regard to relieving poverty. I wonder if there is any intersection of the 2 subjects?

Anonymous said...

I can well believe that Coates finds peace in his fatalism, though. It will always be Whitey's fault-- and people who say "It's all Whitey's fault" for a living will have lifetime tenure in their jobs.

Unknown said...

How about another explanation. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a phoney careerist. The radical angry black man routine is schtick.

It reminds of the character in Chasing Amy. YouTube clip here.

TNC's act is simply a great way to get writing gigs, speaking engagements, etc.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Flynn effect. IQ isn't totally heritable. Otherwise group IQ wouldn't go up over time.

I see IQ as an output, not an input. When people value the things that are tested then they get better scores. IQ is partly a measure of exposure to modernity and education. It's an effect, not a cause. Poverty probably does lower measured IQ. It seems to everywhere else in the world, so why not here?

You can see this in extreme cases, like when IQ tests are performed on premodern people in remote places. They get scores that should mean that they are literally too dumb to live. But they live there and do fine.

IQ, it seems to me, isn't really a cause. It's an effect of genetics and environment.

Illuninati said...

The question is, who is more racist, the conservative Ryan or the leftist Coates?

Suppose Ryan had been more specific and had said, "We have got this tailspin of [black]culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

Would his statement have been racist? If so would he have been as racist as Coates?

If Ryan had made that statement specific to blacks he would have been criticizing blacks but he limited his criticism to culture without tagged them with an intrinsic racial inferiority. He stopped short of overt racism although he came close.

Coates on the other hand went the full distance, in which he identified whites as irredeemably hostile to black people. He went even further by blaming white people for many of the ills which affect the black community. Coates' statement would easily be construed to indicate that black people would be better off if the white people would disappear or at least if the interactions between white people and black people were limited.

Ironclad said...

Coates took a hiatus from the Atlantic to go to France to study the french language. His absence from the Atlantic was refreshing, now that he is back he has made white guilt his crusade. His columns in Atlantic during the last month have been jaw droppingly racist - if you count racism against whites to be a valid social construct. Sins of the Fathers doesn't even begin to reach the level of blame that Coates piles upon everyone not of his tribe.

Coates is a minority within his group - a person that is well above the norm in qualification. But he seems to believe that everyone in his "tribe" shares his gifts. I have never been able to understand how someone that intelligent can be so blind to the toxic culture in his community or how strident he can be in dreaming up excuses for behavior patterns.

People like Paul Ryan threaten him greatly, since Ryan is one of the few whiles that is willing to speak truth to the current situation and propose changes that would remake the culture of despair that 50 years of "compassion" has engendered.

rcocean said...

The worse the thought, the more "Complex" and obscure it is.

Ideology untethered to reality.

TNC is just a race baiter, who got his job because of his skin color. He's a bore.

Lucien said...

The days of this type of discussion are numbered, because demographic change renders it increasingly obsolete to discuss race in exclusively white vs. African American terms.

Armenian, Persian, Turkish, Egyptian, Pakistani & Indian immigrants, all of whom may count as white under some systems, are not going to feel any guilt over "white privilege".

Chinese, Philippino, Vietnamese, Hmong, Caombodian, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Malaysian immigrants have no dog in this fight -- except to the extent that they realize that the "diversity" establishment really wants to impose quotas limiting their admission to top schools (some of the same folks who used to support such quotas limiting Jews).

Latino/Hispanic immigrants and their descendants will soon outnumber the African Americans.

Meanwhile actual African immigrants are fare less invested in the racial grievance/spoils system based on complaining that there were slaves in America 160 years ago, legally segregated schools 60 years ago, and affirmative action only started about 45 years ago.

Illuninati said...

John Lynch said...
"Flynn effect. IQ isn't totally heritable. Otherwise group IQ wouldn't go up over time."

Perhaps we could say that genetics places an upward bound on IQ which the person can not exceed regardless of the environment. A toxic environment would subtract from the genetic endowment, while a good environment protects the original endowment but does not increase it. This is similar to the life span which is genetically determined but which can be shortened through environment.

If American Blacks do have a lower genetic IQ endowment as alleged, the best approach would be to stop treating them as victims and stop teaching them to blame other people for their problems. This hatred is destructive for everyone.

IQ tests do not measure the entire person or his/her worth. Each race is made up of individuals who have their own unique strengths which can contribute to the success and the prosperity of the country. We shouldn't measure people's worth by IQ alone. The best way to match individuals with their abilities is capitalism not racial hatred or identity politics.

test said...

Talking about the past might be interesting, but it shouldn't be mistaken as progress. Regardless of the incredible injustices committed against blacks the decision facing us is how to make improvements. And it's perfectly appropriate to focus on culture to the extent it is an impediment to improvement no matter how it came to be.

Calling people racist for doing so, as Progressives did Ryan, just shows they're more interested in calling people racist than improving outcomes.

William said...

Malcolm X passed through an airport and saw a group of Hungarians, refugees from that failed '56 revolt, waiting to clear customs. His comment was that in two weeks time they would all be referring to him by he n-word.....It didn't take Malcolm even two weeks to stereotype them as bigots......I think the only meaningful way that you can define Paul Ryan as a racist is if you define a racist as anyone that disagrees with Obama.

Michael K said...

" Particularly when nonwhite (and even African) immigrants who have not been long exposed to these issues have been prospering."

My ex-wife was telling me about her new infectious disease specialist yesterday. He is African (real African) and a very nice guy. His parents live in Africa but he and two of his brothers are in the US.

I have seen this over and over again. African and even west Indian students, do very well. Partly this is an effect of the tremendous goodwill they receive from White Americans, who appreciate those who follow the rules of success and try to move up in society.

If IQ is inherited why should Africans do better then African_Americans who also have white genes? I have talked to American blacks who go to Africa and are considered white by the Africans they meet. I have to agree that what IQ measures is civilization, not native intelligence.

The people I really feel sorry for are the black parents who are trying to raise successful kids and are constantly blocked by black politicians and race hustlers. The first step to success is elementary school and that, for inner city blacks, means vouchers and private or charter schools.

Sam L. said...

Their main complaint is that a white man suggested remedies for the problems of blacks in the inner cities, and who must, by their definition, be a raaaaacist, and hate blacks, etc., etc.

The Crack Emcee said...

The centrality of white supremacy to American politics and history is lost and pushed away because it is inconvenient for how Whiteness (and White people) imagines itself as benign.

...Politics is about power, the allocation of resources and opportunities, and basic matters such as safety and security. For people of color, white racism and white supremacy are political projects that profoundly impact our life chances, health, sanity, and freedom from violence in negative ways.

America practiced state-sponsored racial terrorism and tyranny against non-whites for most of its history. Apartheid was not a crime against humanity only in South Africa. American Apartheid, de facto and de jure, was beaten back as a force of law, but remains entrenched institutionally as a type of day-to-day practice in the post civil rights era.

The victims of white racism, especially those people of color excluded from systems of white privilege and white advantage, cannot sit back and compartmentalize white supremacy as some type of interesting intellectual puzzle, or a footnote asterisk on public policy. That is a luxury allowed for those who do not have to deal with the lived consequences which result from excuse-making for white racism.

…White victimology and excuse-making for Republican racism exhibits a common habit,..among the American pundit classes (and likely of many white folks in their private lives) when the "race issue" comes up in conversation.

Racism is complicated and multi-dimensional. Nevertheless, we can develop a basic rubric for understanding it. We are what we do; our habits are reflections of our values and beliefs. As such, racists do racist things,…For decades the Republican Party has relied on a concerted effort of white racist appeals, dog whistles, and other tactics under the guiding principle known as the Southern Strategy, to mobilize its base.

At present, the Republican Party is a White identity organization, a White People's Political Party, and the "polite" face of White Supremacy in America.

Conservatives who advance those interests are racists.

This plain on the face fact is dodged, avoided, talked around, and denied by the mainstream news media. Why? because to tell the truth is to risk career suicide by falling into the trap laid by the White Right and its propaganda machine wherein charges of racism are fuel for the rage engine.

Movement conservatism in the post civil rights era is functionally the same thing as racism. The Republican Party has developed this brand name. They should be held accountable for the decision.

White supremacy and racism are civic evils. By implication, those who practice, enable, support, or use white identity politics for political gain--such as the Republican Party in the Age of Obama--are practicing civic evil.

Why are pundits afraid to hold conservatives and the Republican Party accountable for their racism as opposed to making excuses for it?

Unknown said...

As an aging white guy, if I wrote "slavery and segregation solidified black commitment to values of family, education, and self-improvement (values we define as fundamentally—though not always inclusively—American)" I would be pilloried. In fact, I'm pretty sure someone was, recently.

Gahrie said...

...Politics is about power, the allocation of resources and opportunities

So..if America is all about White racism, why have we spent the l;ast 50 years transferring large sums of money and resources from White Americans to Black Americans? Why are their laws enforcing de jure racism in favor of Black people?

At present, the Republican Party is a White identity organization, a White People's Political Party, and the "polite" face of White Supremacy in America.

Conservatives who advance those interests are racists.

So (for the sake of argument) if White people adavance the interests of White people they are racist, but if Blacks advance the interests of Black people they aren't?

This plain on the face fact is dodged, avoided, talked around, and denied by the mainstream news media

Which fact? The fact that most communities with large numbers of poor Blacks are run by Black people? That schools full of failing Black students are run by Black people?

Illuninati said...

The Crack Emcee said...

"At present, the Republican Party is a White identity organization, a White People's Political Party, and the "polite" face of White Supremacy in America."

I've suspected for some time that Crack is a Democrat posing as a Republican so that he could be more effective when he smears the Republican party. This statement cinches that impression.

Kirk Parker said...

You lost me right up front with TNC being the occupant of a "niche of thoughtful progressive journalism".

Reactive progressive journalism? Sure. Tendentious progressive journalism? No problem. Glib and doctrinaire prog. journalism, or even "creative" a la Brando's comment? I wont quarrel with you.

But thoughtful? That's a stretch.

Synova said...

You've got people like Paul Ryan talking about "culture" from the viewpoint that it's just a word that describes what people are doing right now.

You've got Coats talking about "culture" as a racially inherent tendency of a people. So criticizing "culture" is criticizing "race."

That's what liberal "multiculturalism" BS gets you.

Ironclad said...

IQ measures potential for academic success, that is all. It does not measure integrity, leadership, talent or sports ability. It does not necessarily make you a better welder or craftsman either, just shows you have the ability to string information better than others. (which in current society is a highly valued commodity)

If people can get past the idea that somehow we are all "equally gifted", then you realize that IQ only matters to perhaps 20% of the population, that attends college or other high level training. It doesn't say you will be a success, but it certainly is necessary if you are truly outstanding in many fields.

Intelligence is in most part heritable, the child rarely falls lower than 4/5 of the IQ of a parent
So smart people usually do have smarter kids - on the average genetically. Add the nurture part from the higher level parent and you do get supercharged kids. And with more college grads marrying college grads, the trend in separation in class is accelerating.

People are no different than any other animal, we select for the features that benefit us in our environment. it's been going on since our ancestors left Africa. We may be the same species, but there are as many flavors of us as there are breeds of dogs. And of course we all know that all dog breeds behave exactly the same.

Meade said...

"People are no different than any other animal, we select for the features that benefit us in our environment. it's been going on since our ancestors left Africa."

Not in the time before our ancestors left Africa? And what about our cousins who continue to live in Africa? Do they not select for features that benefit them in their environment?

Anonymous said...

So, how many "inner cities" are controlled by Republicans?

It's not "America" that is racist and destroys minorities lives, it is "Democrats".

But neither of the arguing "progressives" will mention that, because, truth to tell, neither of them give a damn about inner city blacks, either.

All they care about is getting more political power for their side.

Pace Malcolm X, the knife was pulled fully out. Then the Democrats and race baiters shoved it back in.

Michael said...

"to identify—and, in turn, vilify"

To identify is not to vilify; it is the first step in understanding and improving. Paul Ryan is not "vilifying" anybody. He is observing that certain patterns of behavior have certain consequences. Do Coates and Chait deny that this is the case? What is the matter with these "thoughtful Progressives?"

Sisyphus said...

Coates did make at least one interesting point worth considering. Paraphrasing, he suggested that the culture and mores of the inner city are adaptive to inner city life. For example, being ready to solve a confrontation with violence and rejecting any attempt at status diminution using a similar response is highly maladaptive in middle class America. Indeed, it will probably land you in jail or worse. But in the inner city, an earned reputation for successful violent responses to attacks may allow you to avoid being attacked in turn. He had other examples of seemingly poor behaviors being rational given the facts of life in contemporary American inner cities.

Of course, Coates does not see that those "facts of life" are caused at least in part by incentives, and not just history or contemporary attitudes. What Ryan, and to a lesser extent Chiat, Obama, Murray, and others, have suggested is much more about changing incentives via changes to government policy, which would ultimately result in a cultural change (or so they hope) as people reacted to new incentives. If culture is indeed adaptive, as Coates reasonably suggests, we can improve the culture of poverty by positively shaping the environment of people within it.

Michael K said...

"He had other examples of seemingly poor behaviors being rational given the facts of life in contemporary American inner cities."

This is what got (in part) Gary Becker the Nobel Prize in Economics.

His lecture.

He found that poor people respond to incentives that are useful. The effectiveness of these behaviors may be adequate when living only in the ghetto but ineffective in getting out.

There are two groups of blacks; those who function in a violent culture and those who don't or don't want to. The second group is in trouble unless they figure out how to escape.

Race hustlers are another group who live off the inhabitants of the underclass.

I haven't decided which group Crack belongs to.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

Ryan was castigated as a racist for using terms that are demanded by PC liberals.

jr565 said...

Chait is essentially arguing that Coates argues below the belt, and there's no reason to carry on a conversation with such a character assassinator.

Unknown said...

It's clear almost no one here actually read Coates's article (or any of the others in his debate with Chait), but simply decided to go with the "victimized white person who's exhausted by talk of racism" knee-jerk reaction that loves preaching the evils of multiculturalism and liberalism (hat tip, Synova!), but cites no actual evidence apart from stunners like "the last 50 years have seen white people transferring their wealth to black people." Which isn't evidence, just unsubstantiated nonsense.

Because only white people were working during that entire time! They didn't profit one bit by unfair practices embedded in the system, which of course was always a level playing field! Because wasting tax dollars on foreign wars and industry subsidies wasn't welfare! That only exists for those good-for-nothing, on-the-dole "inner-city" cheats, not those red-state patriots taking more money than they remit to the Treasury!

As far as I can tell, Nixon and Atwater's Southern strategy was a complete success because it brainwashed nearly everyone here. Good job, Rick and Lee!

The best evidence of white privilege and grievance in this comment section is the fact that Coates is called a "race hustler" because he has the temerity to discuss race without the misty-eyed visions of success that so many here wish were true, yet Chait, for discussing exactly the same topics, is not a "race hustler." Race hustling: that's only for black people, who are gaming the system in another way.

When white people do it, well, it's just gosh-darned, telling-it-like-it-is, clear-eyed American patriotism.

As for the genius who claims that Coates was only hired by the Atlantic due to the color of his skin, prove it. Don't assume it because you always assume that any black person in a position of authority didn't deserve it, but was an "affirmative action" hire-- proving only that you have no real understanding of the history or realities of affirmative action(which requires effort and learning)--prove it.

And if you think Charles Murray's theories have credence, prove it. You're apparently unaware of how thoroughly he's been debunked, again and again and again. But that's so much less fun than venting here, and anyway, it was probably been done by those soft-headed lib'rals who love the gov'mint, right?

Indeed, for everyone here lamenting how those black people just won't shut up about racial privileges and entitelements, and how they just won't work, and just won't do what's right, prove it. If you could, you would have, but instead, you just spout off.

Leading to the question: why are you complaining here rather than working? Isn't that really your beef with Coates and anyone else who dares mention racial disparities in America?

If you don't understand Malcolm's metaphor of the knife as an indictment of systemic racism that both bureaucracy and the vaunted free market cover up with blather like Chait's (and that Coates mercilessly attacks), neither your literature nor history courses taught you how to read.