Not really a review, but some surface observations about the most-discussed national Black journalism product of 2014:
1) This goes without saying that this is the singular most significant singular piece of monthly magazine journalism written by a Black journalist possibly since Reginald Stuart’s “Kemba’s Nightmare,” (scroll down after hitting the link) back in 1996. But it is written for a white magazine and for an elite white audience. Using that criteria, there are only a few examples of something on this level in 20th and 21st century American journalism history. (This and maybe this immediately come to mind.) The multimedia aspect of this (embedded mini-docs!) automatically makes it the first of its kind in this century.
2) Like “Kemba’s Nightmare,” this article–a densely detailed, lyrical story of institutional racism (the middle-class, “solvable” kind, the one that can be described and dealt with in digestible ways)–seems designed to make whites think about redress legislation the next time the Democrats control both houses of Congress. So it’s another story of the thwarted (African-)American Dream. So once again, the radical aspects of the African-American story–of resistance against white supremacy–are rendered invisible. The purpose of resistance here is to show the want of inclusion, not to transform or radically reform the society.
3) “It was in these early years that Ross began to understand himself as an American—he did not live under the blind decree of justice, but under the heel of a regime that elevated armed robbery to a governing principle.” And this is the underlying principle, isn’t it? That Ross is an American, that Coates is an American, that we are Americans. That this is an American issue. But, again, the audience. This article’s purpose is to explain to some Americans how other Americans became trapped in the ghetto.
4) Lotsa good stuff in here. “The kind of trenchant racism to which black people have persistently been subjected can never be defeated by making its victims more respectable.” Yes, correct. But what would actually defeat it? The endless question. “From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people. But Billy Brooks Jr. had a father. Trayvon Martin had a father. Jordan Davis had a father. Adhering to middle-class norms has never shielded black people from plunder.” Yep! “In the contest of upward mobility, Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much. Malia and Sasha Obama enjoy privileges beyond the average white child’s dreams. But that comparison is incomplete. The more telling question is how they compare with Jenna and Barbara Bush—the products of many generations of privilege, not just one. Whatever the Obama children achieve, it will be evidence of their family’s singular perseverance, not of broad equality.” Another excellent point: Some New Black Money vs. Old White Lotta Money. “America begins in black plunder and white democracy, two features that are not contradictory but complementary.” (Yep. I think George Carlin said something like this: “America was founded by a bunch of slaveholders who wanted to be free.”) “Some black people always will be twice as good. But they generally find white predation to be thrice as fast.” Yep, the tricknology.
5) Coates has said this is “a case for reparations,” not the case for reparations. Correct, no matter what The Atlantic headline writers say. Actually, this is the Black liberal case for the discussion of the Conyers bill for the study of Black reparations. Coates did a fantastic job with providing a “little picture” to discuss a great and sweeping injustice for his white audience. If Black reparations depend on the action of whites, this article will be the catalyst.
So, for any activists who are not satisfied, they are going to have to do something they haven’t done in almost a century: they’re going to have to hire a Black journalist (Linn Washington immediately comes to mind, and I’m sure Richard Prince could give out a prominent list) and do more radical, more angry cases. Let’s get a major “little picture” starring a Black nationalist radical (Dhrouba bin-Wahad, or someone like him) done in time for the 40th anniversary of the Black Power Movement and BPP in 2016! I easily could see Noelle Hanrahan and Claude Marks as researchers/consultants, and I could see Stephen Vittoria and/or the Real News Network as the mini-documentarians.