Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Books for Ta-Nehisi Coates' master class on "race" and "racism" in America

More of Ta-Nehisi Coates' excellent master class on "race" and "racism" in America. This time, a narrative bibliography. I need to read these books.

This is a path that he recommends.
1.) American Slavery, American Freedom, by Edmund Morgan. Essential to understanding your country and how it came to see "blacks" in one light and "whites" in another.

2.) White Over Black, by Winthrop Jordan. I don't agree with this book, but it's important to confront the counterargument—that Anglo-American culture is racist at its very root and predisposed toward hatred of black people.

3.) The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter. A deeply amusing book that finds great minds—chiefly Ralph Waldo Emerson—arguing that race explains why "Celts" are Catholic and "Saxons" Protestant. It also reveals how poorly racist thinking ages. The book is an eminently readable guide through the evolution and conception of white people. Again, nothing inevitable here.

4.) Black Folks Here and There, by St. Clair Drake. The source for me. This book changed my life. I've listed it so low because at the time I read it, I had nothing else to do, really. I didn't do much homework. I skipped a lot of class. I just soaked stuff like this up.

5.) "On Being White ... and Other Lies," by James Baldwin.No one is better on the idea of "race," and particularly whiteness, and its import than Baldwin: "No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations and a vast amount of coercion ..." In this essay, he brings together all the history and wastes no words dumbing down its likely import:
... in this debasement and definition of black people, they have debased and defined themselves. And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they dare not confront the ravage and lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers .... Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety.
This, to me, is the deepest significance of reparations. People who think this is just a matter of giving black things vastly underestimate the challenge. Reparations may seem impractical. Living without history, I suspect, will—in the long term—prove to be suicidal.

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