I am a huge fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates. He writes unique things on important topics. So, catching him in error fills me with a giddiness not unlike finding a typo in a William Safire column might thrill an amateur grammarian. He errs in his “defense” of Melissa Harris-Perry.
Here is her segment in all its inane glory:
I have little doubt that Harris-Perry didn’t think she was saying something offensive. Unfortunately, her awareness is not required.
All children of course go through points when they feel their parents aren’t representing their interests (perhaps by not buying them Grand Theft Auto at age 5). Only the adopted child, however, will can mentally log this as evidence of not really belonging to her parents. It is quite easy for an adoptee to feel she has no “real” family since her first family is gone and her second isn’t hers in exactly the same sense that the other kids’ families are theirs. This is unfortunate, and good adoptive parents do what is necessary to assuage their children’s doubts, but I think they would agree that this is a challenge they face as parents that is disturbing in its implications if not handled properly.
And that’s before someone points out to the kid that he doesn’t really belong on national TV and that the idea that he is a member of his adoptive family worthy of a full minute of public mockery. The saving grace is that the child as pictured seems too young to perhaps appreciate what was said and that I suspect Romney knows how to direct his kids’ attention away from the nattering nabobs on TV.
It’s disappointing to find that Coates resorts to criticizing the criticizers:
When not attempting to shame their enemies on trumped-up charges of racism, the conservative movement busies itself appealing to actual racists. We are into the sixth year of the era of a black president. In that time the conservative movement has gorged on a steady diet of watermelon jokes, waffle jokes,affirmative-action jokes, monkey jokes, barbecue jokes, terrorist machinations,secret Muslim plots, and dastardly Kenyan conspiracies. Three months ago, the movement reached a new low, waving the flag of slavery in front of the Obama’s home. It is tempting to call this the climax of a long campaign. That would exhibit an unearned optimism at odds with history.
The research is an impressive distraction. Harris-Perry’s segment was offensive irrespective of the failings of those who might criticize her. A character assassination of conservatives, regardless of its merits, does not make for a defense of liberals.
The argument presented by Coates is the basis for only-Republicans-can-be-racist, and it is simply incorrect. Not being one of the designated Bad Guys doesn’t make you good. Harris-Perry ought to receive no comfort from the failings of her detractors. If she does, then that simply means she is incapable of failings.
Update: The Atlantic changed the title of the linked piece from A Defense of Melissa Harris-Perry to “The Smartest Nerd in the Room”
Photo credit: Flickr user Tulane Publications