Certification as the liberals’ official angry black man is a lucrative gig. The market is upscale, but the job is only temporary. Fashions change, or rather remain subject to a cycle. The job isn’t easy; it requires high attainment in the art of performance. Black rage must be precisely matched to liberal guilt.
James Baldwin provides the original model, in the essays originally published in the New Yorker and then collected in The Fire Next Time. Baldwin was a deeply literary man working at an elevated height, but the descent from Baldwin was steep. The sixties and early seventies served up new models on an almost annual basis. Before long we had Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, and, lest we forget, George Jackson.
As the the sixties came to a close, Tom Wolfe rudely interrupted the show with the publication in June 1970 of “Radical Chic” in New York magazine. Packaged in book form with “Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers,” Wolfe’s essay remains essential reading. Given the persistence of liberal guilt, however, the show continued after Wolfe’s interruption.
Entering the latter days of the Age of Obama we find Jennifer Schuessler serving at the New York Times as the gatekeeper of liberal certification. Schuessler has given us loving profiles of Michelle Alexander (2012) and Alice Goffman (honorary, 2014; rescue mission 2015).
Now comes Ms. Schuessler to anoint Ta-Nehisi Coates as this year’s model. The occasion of Schuessler’s profile is the publication last week of Coates’s book Between the World and Me. As if this were not enough, David Brooks served up an obsequious column expressing polite disagreement with Coates’s book.
At the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada perceptively invokes “radical chic” and observes the obeisance paid to Coates even by a brilliant conservative writer (my words, not Lozada’s) such as Kevin Williamson. Lozada notes that Coates “has become liberal America’s conscience on race.” I can cite Jennifer Schuessler; Coates can draw on his circle of friends. After surveying the landscape, after suggesting that the book may have a problem or two, Lozada emerges as a fan; he hails the book as a permanent contribution.
We will have to take a look with our own eyes. I intend to do so here presently.
NOTE: Glenn Reynolds piqued my interest in the Coates phenomenon with a a characteristically biting comment at InstaPundit.