1 Nov
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on How to Stay Woke

How to Stay Woke

Yesterday my CDL “Waking Up to Whiteness” group had a great discussion on Charles Johnson’s novel, Middle Passage, and now we’re moving on to We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedyby Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This will not be a comfortable read, but I want to do it because one of the chapters in the book was part of the original “Waking Up to Whiteness” curriculum — and for me, it was THE most memorable of all the readings, and definitely the one that impacted me the most.

It Woke Me Up!

(It was: The Case for Reparations, which you can read here in its original publication in the Atlantic magazine.)

Now with Coates’ new book, I expect the waking up will continue. Here’s a sample:

The central thread of this book is eight articles written during the eight years of the first black presidency–a period of “Good Negro Government”. Obama was elected amid widespread panic and, in his eight years, emerged as a caretaker and measured architect. He established the framework of a national healthcare system from a conservative model. He prevented an economic collapse and neglected to prosecute those largely responsible for that collapse. He ended state-sanctioned torture but continued the generational war in the Middle East. His family–the charming and beautiful wife, the lovely daughters, the dogs–seemed pulled from the Brooks Brothers catalogue. He was not a revolutionary. He steered clear of major scandal, corruption, and bribery. He was deliberate to a fault, saw himself as the keeper of his country’s sacred legacy, and if he was bothered by his country’s sins, he ultimately believed it to be a force for good in the world. In short, Obama, his family, and his administration were a walking advertisement for the ease with which black people could be fully integrated into the unthreatening mainstream of American culture, politics, and myth.

And that was always the problem…

There is a basic assumption in this country, one black people are not immune to, which holds that if blacks comport themselves in a way that accords to middle-class values, if they are polite, educated, and virtuous, then all the fruits of America will be open to them. In the most vulgar terms, this theory of personal Good Negro Government denies the existence of racism and white supremacy as meaningful forces in American life…

But the argument made in much of this book is that Good Negro Government–personal and political–often augments the very white supremacy it seeks to combat.

That is what happened to Thomas Miller and his colleagues in 1895 [after Reconstruction]. That is what happened to black people all through South Carolina during Redemption. It is what happened to black people on the South Side of Chicago during the postwar implementation of the New Deal. And it is what, I contend, is right now happening to the legacy of the country’s first black president.


No, this will not be comfortable.

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