I want to agree with Josh Marshall, but, coming from a white man, I find this a bit hard to take in full:
But race is never an abstract reality without deep roots in class, gender and cultural factors. Coates’ vision and argument is so unitary and totalizing that any ‘excepts’ or ‘buts’ are not only dismissed but actually marshaled as further proofs of the totalizing premise.Self-examination is hard; and the end result can sometimes feel like self-negation, like flagellation, like mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa which, especially to those outside the recognition, the realization, the acceptance of responsibility, can seem extreme and unnecessary.
Race has been a central organizing feature of American life – specifically the binary subordination of enslaved people of African ancestry to white Europeans – since the middle and late decades of the 17th century when African slaves first became a core feature of the economic order in the emerging commodity export colonies of what we now call the South. As the late Edmund Morgan explained forty years ago, the dignity and standing of middling whites – something like what we’d today call the ‘white working class’ – was not only buttressed by but was in many ways manufactured out of the subordination and degradation of African slaves. But no unitary explanation can ever capture the fullness or messiness or simply the complexity of human societies. There are exceptions and contradictions and complexities that get crushed by any totalizing narrative, perhaps especially by those which are largely true, precisely because they have so much accuracy, coherence and emotive and explanatory force.
But that's the whole point of self-examination. The catechism, much as I might reject its soteriology, was not wrong: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." You have to start with the extreme of the desert fathers. And if Mr. Coates has become "oracular," then maybe the problem is in your heart, not in his. It is not that Mr. Coates is a prophet from God who deserves your immediate respect and admiration; it is more that, if Mr. Coates has disturbed you deeply with his words, you need to examine why you are so disturbed. George Packer and Josh Marshall want us to reject Mr. Coates' words and his ideas. But if we are challenged by them, if they seem to flatten history itself into a singular cause and effect, perhaps that is because we don't really understand the cause and effect of race in America, especially if we are white men (as I know at least two of us are).
A white man in America can say: "Race has been a central organizing feature of American life." But a white man in America cannot finish that sentence with any kind of qualifier that lifts some of that burden from his shoulders.
This is our wound. This is our hidden wound. This is the wound we keep hidden, at all cost. Yes, the fathers have eaten sour grapes and set their children's teeth on edge; that's the responsibility of the elders to the children. Humility is hard. Responsibility is hard. That does not mean we get to qualify them, to not accept that they are totally and absolutely applicable to us. We cannot say: "This far and no further." We have to complete the journey.