The Discomfort Zone

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-28 12:00:00 No comments

One of the more troubling things I've seen lately is the number of people, all of whom really should know better, trying to get Ta-Nehisi Coates to act as if he needs to stop being such a Negative Nehisi (couldn't resist, sorry) about things. I cannot think of any discernible reason to do this other than to silence him.

Making us uncomfortable is Coates's self-appointed function. He has made it his job to show us that the country we live in is a deeply imperfect place that has still not had the kind of reckoning it needs to have with its past, and that the more excuses we make for why we don't need to do that, the easier it is for us to excuse other things — present or future — that are as bad or worse.

It's not just the specific issues Coates brings up, like reparations for slavery; it's the way others dissemble and squirm and suddenly show amazing amounts of intellectual disingenuousness when he brings up such issues. They don't even bother to say, "This is a valid idea but not workable," but instead say — in almost exactly these words — "Why can't you say nice things about the country you live in?" And this from people who are ostensibly "on his side", who are supposed to be allies!

Why does anyone at all need Coates to tell them something good about ourselves? Why do they need his praise? There is literally no end of other folks whom one can turn to for assurances that America Is Hunky-Dory, or that America Is Capable Of Doing Better And Has In Fact Done Better In The Past So Stop With The Whining Already. It isn't Coates's job to flatter us, because we already do that to ourselves without his help.

The idea that Coates, or any writer whose sense of dignity remains unbought, owes us a good time or a comforting word is a way to defang him. It allows us to pretend all the more that the wormy truths he has for us can be shrugged off, because hey look he has nice things to say about us as well. And what better way to do that than to get Coates himself to ameliorate them and thereby disown them that much more?

Tags: Ta-Nehisi Coates history racism