David Brooks Relies on Ignorant White Privilege to Attack Ta-Nehisi Coates' New Book

Highly-paid moral muser David Brooks reviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, "Between the World and Me" and he has some bones to pick. Nobody really asked for his opinion, but he has a column to write and a detached center-right white establishment to soothe so here we are. The review begins harmlessly enough, issuing praise dripping with "hey, I'm hip to what you're saying" posturing:


Your new book, “Between the World and Me,” is a great and searing contribution to this public education. It is a mind-altering account of the black male experience. Every conscientious American should read it.

But wait for it -- anyone who's tracked Brooks' career of hippie-punching knows this won't last long. In typical Brooksian fashion, his generous tone is simply a lubricant for the column's true objective: white establishment finger-wagging. Have an opinion black journalist, but understand that your opinions are misguided and divisive. "But the disturbing challenge of your book is your rejection of the American dream." Brooks would gripe, "My ancestors chose to come here. For them, America was the antidote to the crushing restrictiveness of European life, to the pogroms. For them, the American dream was an uplifting spiritual creed that offered dignity, the chance to rise."

How dare you have a radically different experience than my upper-middle class white experience. Brooks, after a bit more false praise, goes in for the kill: Your criticism of America is wrong because America also has some good white folk. 

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America. 

First off all, nice plug for charter schools with the Harlem's Children Zone, Dave. That Brooks, in an effort to reach for the opposite of the KKK would rest upon a neoliberal education initiative rather than a meaningful civil rights organization says a lot. Secondly, Brooks never really makes a point here. Has Coates ever said America didn't have any virtue? Did he say white America didn't have any redeeming qualities? For godsakes, his Twitter avatar is the decidedly white and decidedly American Ulysses S. Grant. But no, Brooks isn't sincerely interested in answering these questions. He's interested, per usual, in avoiding them altogether by playing, as whites often do, victim in the face of meaningful challenge on race. He's interested in bashing a straw black man. He's interested in soothing over his readers rather than confronting them with Coates's narrative. He's interested, least of all, in actually reviewing the book.

He would whine on:

I read this all like a slap and a revelation. I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it, to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?

If I do have standing, [ed note: Brooks currently writes for the New York Times and is a regular on both NPR and PBS]. I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

Huh? Who ever said Brooks didn't have "standing"? The very idea that a white male whose opinion is disseminated in three separate major media outlets almost daily is somehow not heard from is peak privilege. It's also the most cliche of response when whites are confronted, in the slightest, by this privilege. Not only is the core of the criticism ignored outright, as Brooks does by entirely distorting Coates's thesis, but it's met with knee-jerk  indignation and "am I allowed to talk now?" mugging.

Yes, Brooks, you have standing. You had standing when you helped us invade Iraq and you had "standing" when you floated discredited racist theories for years. You have so much standing that millions of Times readers are subjected, time and time again, to your most half-assed and poorly thought out musings regardless of their substance. You have so much standing that maybe you should, for once, give it rest, sit down and try listening. 

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