A favorite blogger, a struggling progressive culture: Ta-Nehisi Coates is easily one of our favorite bloggers.
Two reasons: He has his own subject matter and he has his own point of view. He doesn’t roll out the twenty familiar topics and say the thirty familiar things, with one or two of the standard points ever so slightly adjusted.
That said, Coates has seemed to be doing something unusual in the past week. Unless we’re reading him incorrectly, he’s been changing his stance on the Zimmerman trial, without explaining why. The process continues today at the end of his most recent post about the killing of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot and killed by a Charlotte policeman two weeks ago.
We’ll recommend Coates’ two most recent posts, both about the killing of Ferrell. This is the end of today’s post:
COATES (9/24/13): Where science is concealed, magic reigns. And you will be forgiven for believing that the fact of the ghetto, is the fact of my lesser humanity. And with that lessened humanity, with all the requisite stereotypes, comes an entire belief system that tolerates the killing of Trayvon Martin by a man who then tours the factory where the weapon he used to slaughter a child was made.Personally, we wish a few non-racists would “discover Chicago” (and Baltimore). That said, we take the highlighted passage to be a continuation of Coates’ new stance on the Zimmerman trial, which he first expressed last week.
I can only yell so loud when a jury comes back with a verdict we do not like. I can only yell so loud when the police act on magic. The society believes in magic. The institutions reflect this belief. Whoso tolerates a dual-society, necessarily tolerates the killing of Jonathan Ferrell. I see no evidence that the dual-society, nor its toleration, are in decline. Trayvon Martin will happen again. George Zimmerman will be innocent again. Fools will blame hip-hop again. Racists will discover Chicago again. And we will be back in the streets demanding a change in some law which is but the thin branch of a problem, that extends down into our country's deepest roots.
We refer to this post from September 16. We still don’t understand the headline. But it seems fairly clear, as the post begins, that Coates has changed his view on the trial:
COATES (9/16/13): Trayvon Martin Was a Victim of Black-on-Black CrimeWe’ll suggest that you read on. But unless we’re misreading Coates, it seems fairly clear that he is calling Trayvon Martin’s death a “murder” in his first paragraph.
It was nice to be some thousands of miles away when the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down. I confess to being about as skeptical of a guilty verdict as I was of the predictions of mass violence in response. But being back and having thought about this a bit, I think something needs to be pointed out. There is this horrible idea out there that we should bracket off murder; that Trayvon Martin was a victim of racism but Derrion Albert and Hadiya Pendleton were not. The thinking holds that black people are concerned about the violence done to them by people who aren't black, and forgiving of violence done to them by people who are.
But Derrion Albert and Hadiya Pendleton are no less victims of racism than Trayvon Martin. The neighborhoods in which these two young people were killed are a model of segregation funded and implemented by private citizens, realtors, business interests, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and the federal government. This segregation is not a mistake but the desired outcome of racist social engineering...
In the second paragraph, he plainly says that Martin was a victim of racism. He also seems to suggest that and that he favored a guilty verdict in real time. Later in the post, he makes his view seem a bit stronger:
COATES (9/16/13): Like so many other lost black boys, Trayvon Martin was killed close to home. He was killed by someone whom he lived around. His hoodie marked him, as surely as any gang color ever marked anyone. He was watched by George Zimmerman in the exact same way that I, and all my friends, were watched when we strayed into some other neighborhood.Ignore the question of whether Martin was “close to home” that night. Coates has even adopted the standard idea that Zimmerman targeted Martin because of his hoodie although, in candor, there is no evidence of that on the record at all.
We were surprised when we read this post because of what Coates wrote in July, in real time. Back then, he offered a pithy seven-point post in which he said, among other things, “I think the jury pretty much got it right.”
At the time, we admired him for going against the flow. These were the first three points in that unusual post:
COATES (7/14/13): I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to offer some thoughts on the verdict of innocent for George Zimmerman:By now, the killing of Martin is a murder. Back then, Coates seemed to say that he didn't quite know.
1.) Last year—after Zimmerman was arrested—I wrote something hoping that he would be convicted. A commenter wrote in to object, saying that arguing for his arrest was justifiable. Arguing for his conviction was not. I acknowledged the point at the time. The wisdom of it seems even more appropriate today.
2.) I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eye-witnesses.
3.) The idea that Zimmerman got out of the car to check the street signs, was ambushed by a 17-year old kid with no violent history who told him "you're going to die tonight" strikes me as very implausible. It strikes me as much more plausible that Martin was being followed by a strange person, that the following resulted in a confrontation, that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation, and that Zimmerman then shot him. But I didn't see the confrontation. No one else really saw the confrontation. Except George Zimmerman. I'm not even clear that situation I outlined would result in conviction.
For the sake of clarity, let us repeat the basic statement: “I think the jury basically got it right.”
Even then, some of that passage seemed a bit overdrawn. At some point on the night in question, Martin was being followed by a strange person. At some point, that did result in a confrontation, in a manner which went unobserved. According to all the evidence, Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation. And it’s true that Zimmerman then shot him.
There’s no need to say that these things strike us as “plausible.” It’s obvious that all these things did happen—although, as Coates noted in July, it isn’t clear how these events occurred.
Did Zimmerman confront Martin in some way, or did Martin confront Zimmerman? You are allowed to get out of your car in the community where you live—and no, despite a solid year of dissembling, the police dispatcher never told Zimmerman not to get out of his car. (Just because every “liberal” says it, that doesn't mean that it's true. Traditionally, aggrieved southern groups always arranged to have their people misstating basic facts.) But you aren’t allowed to confront somebody at gun point on a dark night, and you aren’t allowed to jump somebody who gets out of his car.
Which of those events happened that night? Unlike almost every other American, we still don’t know how the answer to that! We would have thought that Coates was saying he didn’t know in his original post.
In comments to his original post, Coates went into substantial detail about the violent confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin that night. He contradicted commenters who said that Zimmerman wouldn't have thought he was in real danger. Sorry, but Zimmerman really was in danger, Coates rather clearly said.
We thought Coates performed a real service in that post, reminding people that the case might not fit their preferred narratives. To us, it’s hard to see how Coates’ new posts jibe with that presentation.
Last week, we were struck by the apparent change of position—and by something else. Doggone it! For obvious reasons, Coates has a loyal base of regular reader/commenters. But in 209 comments to last week’s post, not one person said a word about the apparent change in Coates’ position about the events of that night. The liberal world had adopted a Standard Group View, and no one seemed to find it strange to see Coates coming home.
Maybe we’re misunderstanding some part of what Coates has written. At one point in last week’s post, Coates seems to suggest that he has rethought his original view. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but we were surprised by the fact that none of the 209 commenters commented on the apparent change in his position.
The liberal world has adopted a very firm Standard Group View about this case. This is the way the ditto-heads have always worked in the other tribe. We don’t think that approach would be a helpful addition to the emerging culture of our progressive tribe.
In closing, Coates is always worth reading. He has his own subject matter and his own point of view. Very few writers do. We're big fans of Coates, although we think these posts are a bit unclear.