In Between the World and Me, required reading for millions of undergraduates nationwide for years now, Ta-Nehisi Coates states that he had no sympathy for the white cops and firemen who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. They were just “menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.”
Good writing. But Coates wrote this of people with families. Spouses and especially children never saw Daddy again. Even in view of the relationship between cops and black men, which surely informed this pitilessness in Coates, the numbness to personal grief, the dehumanization of the family members those people left behind amidst a titanic and unusual tragedy, was stunningly cold. It was unexamined and irresponsible for someone billed as a public intellectual.
Yet the white punditocracy at most tsked-tsked at him for it. In our society where a person can be roasted as a moral pervert and fired for wearing blackface makeup as a joke (the Washington Post employee) or for Criticizing One-and-a-Half Asian Celebrities While White (Alison Roman), Coates was allowed to say that those white public servants deserved to die but continued to be celebrated as America’s lead prophet on race.
The only reason for this pass given to Coates was condescension: brute denigration (word chosen deliberately) of a black human being. To not hold Coates responsible for the horror of a judgment like that — imagine it coming from, for example, John Lewis — and to even assign the book containing it to impressionable young people nationwide, is to treat him as someone not responsible for his actions. It is to treat Coates as a child. He is being patted on the head the way Benny Hill did to bald little Jackie Wright. Pat-a-pat-pat, you’re cute.