Now Coates, who recently moved to Paris and has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant, is lambasting Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Bernie Sanders for failing to tackle what Coates calls “white supremacy.” His anger has been aroused by Sanders’s sensible observation that reparations are, first and foremost, impractical. Coates reasons that much of Sanders’s platform is impractical, so why not indulge black voters one more fantasy?
Here Coates tips his hand. Coates doesn’t actually believe that Sanders can make good on any of his campaign promises, racially motivated or not, but Coates wants Sanders to earnestly pretend that he will. In other words, Coates wants Sanders, in effect, to peddle illusions. Why? What would that achieve? Haven’t black Americans had enough of being lied to? How would being lied to change anything for blacks in this country? It wouldn’t, and that’s the point. Coates does not believe things for blacks will change, even if they should. Thus Coates is validated in his narrative that blacks are perpetual victims of a vicious history.
…It’s odd that Coates expects a white man to be in charge of ending what he calls white supremacy, as opposed to appealing to Barack Obama, a black man who holds the highest office in the land. There’s a reason for that. The tickle of authenticity comes cheap. But the second Coates looks to black leadership for change, his proposals are no longer radical chic, and reality must set in. As long as words like “reparations” can float freely in columns and cocktail parties, blacks are free to project their pain, past and present, on rhetoric that serves no purpose other than to titillate the American left.
And titillation is indeed what it’s all about. I almost wish I could be naïve enough to still be surprised, but here you have a genuine socialist candidate for president, one who may yet even become the nominee, and yet one of the prominent left-hipster media darlings is condemning him for his stance on a complete non-starter of an issue that would never be within his power to act upon, even should he miraculously win the election. You might think this is an insanely counter-productive tactic, the inevitable left-wing circular firing squad, and you would be half-correct — it certainly is, for anyone interested in pragmatism over posturing. If what you want, though, is a steady supply of opportunities to position yourself as a member in good standing of the moral vanguard, then it makes perfect sense. No one can ever be allowed to profane your purity by speaking of the need for practicality or compromise. For people like Coates and his dime-a-dozen progressive flunkies, the worst thing that could happen would be for things to actually improve. If their complaints were ever framed in such a way as to be brought into practical reach, they’d be out of a job before long.
It’s like the popular phrase “not even wrong” — this charade, which purports to be purely concerned with morality, this charade of taking to task the most left-wing politician of recent memory for failing to challenge “white supremacy”, this charade of all the white progressives who trip over themselves to be seen publicly gushing over Coates’ book and thus absolved of being the wrong kind of white people, is not even moral. It mimics the mannerisms of morality but improves nothing. It identifies nothing resembling an actual way forward. “In Coates’s view, no one has agency.” That’s convenient, because as you’ve heard me say before, and will hear me say again, many people consider agency a burden and would love to be rid of it. This charade is the moral equivalent of running in place, a means of appearing to exercise agency without getting anywhere or risking anything. What’s really depressing is when you realize how much of progressive politics consists of nothing else but.