Friday, March 28, 2014

Can we talk? High-fiving Coates and Chait (updated x4)

No one is going to accuse me of breaking any news when I say that our politics has become polarized. When we're not retreating into information bubbles that confirm what we already think (ie, epistemic closure) we're yelling ad hominems at each other and then storming off in outrage. Years ago then-Senator Barack Obama warned us that this played completely into a conservative agenda.
A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
That's exactly why I want to notice and applaud the conversation that is currently underway between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. Yes, they are disagreeing with each other. And not only that - we're watching a black man and a white man have a conversation about race in America. The odds that this happens in a way that informs rather than inflames are minimal at best. And yet that's exactly what we're seeing.

In case you haven't been following along, it all started when Ta-Nehisi Coates reacted to Rep. Paul Ryan's statements about a culture in our inner cities that doesn't value the importance of work. Here are the links for how it has progressed from there (so far):

Jonathan Chait

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jonathan Chait 

I promise that if you read all four articles, you are going to learn some things about race in America. But I also have this warning: if you go in thinking its time to dig in your heels and take one person's side over the other one - you're going to miss out on a lot. As Nezua wrote a while ago, I encourage you to let go of your surety and exist for just a moment on the "purpling beaches of dusk." is not like a series of books in a course on …anything. It fluctuates. We fluctuate. We are not a being, but a becoming, as Friedrich once said. And sometimes ideas are hammered out and we draw lines and walls and are told we fall on one side or the other and so do our thoughts and so does all that follows from them…and so it goes. We buy into these illusory borders, too...

I am far more comfortable navigating the in-between than I am in any Place. I like no thing as much as the coming and going from one to another. It is on the purpling beaches of dusk and the roseing gauze of dawn that my true eye shines lidless and I see so much more than in broad daylight. In the falling away of my tired husk I remember my shape can only be held temporarily. And to cling too tightly to it is to rot.

Being sure is but the borderwall we place around a heart to ward off the skinstripping wind of the next living moment.
I really hope that Coates responds and that this conversation continues. That's only partly because in his latest response Chait brought up the article I wanted to ask Coates about. But WAY more important than that is the fact that this back-and-forth is exactly what a conversation over disagreements should look like. We see far to little of that these days.

Update 3/30/14: Coates has written his next response. I'm going to keep updating this post so that I can compile the entire conversation here.

Update 3/31/14: Chait responds.

Update 4/3/14: A little something from me on all this

Update 4/4/14: The latest from Coates


  1. I agree, and just want to add that they have each taken a few days to respond each time; that's healthy. A lot can be lost by replying too fast.

  2. Not sure that they both continue to see the dialogue, or debate, as such an entirely positive model on its own terms. It is clarifying, but that means it is also exposing meaningful differences felt personally. Coates has adopted a position that, unless he finds a way to climb down from it, sooner or later must make many of his liberal fans distance themselves from him.


why i've been awol

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