Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates challenges me. He is among the writers that have pushed me furthest out of my comfort zone, and among the writers that have helped me make the most sense of what I see in my studies here in Camden. All of that said, go read his article feature The First White President. It’s everything Coates’ writing can be: foreboding, challenging, insightful, brilliant, and dense with critical history.
I wanted to start this post — the first of a new series of Friday roundups — with a quote from that article:
Packer finds inspiration for his thesis in West Virginia—a state that remained Democratic through the 1990s before turning decisively Republican, at least at the level of presidential politics. This relatively recent rightward movement evinces, to Packer, a shift “that couldn’t be attributed just to the politics of race.” This is likely true—the politics of race are, themselves, never attributable “just to the politics of race.” The history of slavery is also about the growth of international capitalism; the history of lynching must be seen in light of anxiety over the growing independence of women; the civil-rights movement can’t be disentangled from the Cold War. Thus, to say that the rise of Donald Trump is about more than race is to make an empty statement, one that is small comfort to the people—black, Muslim, immigrant—who live under racism’s boot.
This brilliant series of sentences, acknowledges the truth in saying “that couldn’t be attributed just to the politics of race”, and its ultimate emptiness. Nothing is ever “just.”
I’ve been trying to do something similar — taking a “both, and” approach — trying to get out of these frightening dichotomy where things/people/ideas get labeled (“leftist”, “racist” or sometimes “efficient” “cost-effective”). Too often, the label is the end of the conversation, the first argument a “gotcha” statement.
I’m trying to move to the and part of the statement. I’m not talking about equivocating (example of how to do it wrong: “there’s violence on many sides“). I’m talking about the hard work Coates does here of moving beyond a simplistic labeling used to end arguments and win points (it’s not just racism), to important, deeper discussions that allow us to acknowledge multiple dynamics and realities in ways that challenge us and better capture the world around us. As Coates argues (paraphrased):
— it can both be true that the shift in West Virginia politics was not “just” because of race and true that this politics has deeply racial roots and consequences.
That gives us a more meaningful understanding of the world. Here’s one of my own, which I find myself repeating in the dreaded Bernie v. Hillary conversation that won’t seem to die in my circles:
— it can both be true Clinton faced an uphill battle because of structural and system sexism in culture and be true that she had serious flaws as a candidate.
It’s a frame I come back to again and again as I try to cut through the noise and through the one-line gotcha arguments that feel like they’re everywhere. So, with all that said, here are my “both, and“s from the week in Camden, NJ:
— Holtec and its new facility can both be the result of a deeply flawed policy that included no guarantees or leverage for community jobs and the company can hire and train residents (something I hope it continue to do despite no policy requirements!)
— it can both be an injustice that Camden High was allowed to deteriorate (despite legal responsibilities for upkeep by the SDA) and the school’s demolition can be a tricky decision given the constraints of how the SDA allocates funding (per student), part of the driving force behind the consolidation of a number of schools into the new Camden High facility.
— the newly approved Costco in Cherry Hill (a major point of disagreement between the burgeoning progressive movement in Cherry Hill and elected Democratic officials) can both be a short-term source of revenue and tax dollars in a long-vacant property and a short-sighted move that limits the municipality’s long-term ability to develop the type of walkable commercial corridors at the heart of so many town revivals.
— we can both support Democratic leaders engaging in the fight against Trump (and to keep DACA, the Affordable Care Act and more) and fight their local efforts to strip communities of color of democratic rights through the takeover of Atlantic City/continue the takeover of the education system in Camden.
Enjoy your weekend! We’ll be back Monday with Jared Hunter’s weekly column.