Inconvenient Truths: Fear of a Black President by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The news cycle is such these days that it’s an effort to keep up with it. Hence, the reason I am reading this piece in it’s entirety, a month later. Fear of a Black President made a tremendous noise when it’s was published and I heard the reverberations. My first thought was, oh how clever, since the title must’ve been inspired by Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy.

Conveniently, stealthily, I left it at that, until today. Today, my natural proclivity towards curiosity and intellectual challenge drove me to read it. I am not sorry that I did although it left me in tears. I’ve finally learned to accept that not everything worth hearing leaves you smiling, that life’s deepest truths often leave you reeling. It is a measure of your character whether or not you can absorb ugly truths and find a way to deal with them…so, I soldier on.

First, I should say that the title alone made me afraid to read it, strange, but true. I knew, of course, that it would deal with race and, as typical of Ta-Nehisi’s work, evince a deeper, oft unexpressed truth. Ta-Nehisi Coates is more than an excellent, learned writer, he is adept at stripping away varnish and ferreting out truth. These days, it seems to be a rare talent.

In what I can only construe as irony, I rarely spoke about race until about ten years ago. It is not that I never thought about it, it just seemed easier not to discuss the undercurrents of it unless something brazenly racial assaulted me. Many of my childhood friends are White and liberal, open-minded though they may be, I always surmised that they would not understand my rage. I’ve tested it and just as I thought very few can handle any expression of anger over racial injustice, they don’t even understand the need for it.

What rage?

The rage that I’ve had to own because it was eating me up on the inside.

The rage that drove me to say if I ever had a son that he would never serve in the military because too many Black people have died for this country.

The rage that drove me on to marry a African man, aware as I was underneath, that I was attempting to not only reinforce my Blackness but spit in the face of anyone who would suggest that he, by virtue of his birth, was not good enough.

The rage, that I often suppressed during my career in corporate America, as I was passed over for promotion by White men, often less talented, or dedicated. Knowing, all the while, that my salary was significantly less than theirs and that gender was only one of the biases that I faced.

That same rage and horror, which subsumed me after visiting a White colleague’s house. His house, valued at 2 million dollars, sitting on an acre of land in upstate NY. He took me there to show off, I knew. He was kinda courting me in between women. His wealth isn’t what threw me. It was his presumption that it would be enough, for a Black girl, when weighed against his misanthropy, misogyny, alcoholism and sense of privilege and entitlement. Only when I got back to work, and found myself crying uncontrollably in the bathroom because I couldn’t escape the thought, that no matter how hard I worked, I would never have a life like that. The odds are against me, you see, and for some reason my subconscious took the reigns to remind me that by virtue of my birth my possibilities were limited.

Had you asked me that question, or even implied, that I believed such a limit existed, I would have denied it vehemently. Yet, there it was, beating palpably beneath my skin where it has undoubtedly sat for most of my life…a silent judgement on my own self-worth, indelibly ingrained by virtue of being an African American.

I struggle with that. Once a voice speaks up that loudly you in you, it’s impossible to quell. I don’t wish to quell it, as it opens the door to a deeper awareness of self. It is through that prism, that I came to understand that many of my motivations, in my career life, my educational choices, where to live, what to wear, as a few examples, have been an ongoing attempt to defy the racial stereotypes which dog African Americans. I speak about it now, because I would not be complicit in my silence and it is the only way to truly be free.

This piece reminds me profoundly of my own struggle and it forces me to acknowledge some of my own behavior. Reading this blog, you might believe that I think Obama can do no wrong. I have given ample time and verbiage to why I support him, while never speaking on what I disagree with, the horror with which he has wielded military might; the use of drones; the lack of any concerted attempt to address issues which assail the Black community, most prevalently.

Why my silence?

Because Black people know in their hearts that to speak out against our Black president is to empower his enemies who are working overtime to assail him. His ascendancy makes that a given. I guarantee you there is not one amongst us who is surprised at the covert and overt racial animus and seemingly new “polarization” which has gripped the country since 2008. We might hope for better but we expect the worst.

Don’t misunderstand me, I still believe he is the best man for the job without question. My respect for him is not diluted by my areas of dissatisfaction. I am just truly saddened that there isn’t an honest critique of the President, by people of color, without these considerations that bind us together in a sort of racial dysfunction. I am saddened that America’s history and racial animus, engendered by fear, has limited his effectiveness for all citizens. Mostly, I am saddened that he has clearly chosen to work within the dynamics of the game, rather than breaking down the dynamic by facing it head on.

But if he did that, he might not be here for a second term. Which was another unspoken fear that I shared with my Brothers and Sisters. After all, everyone of our great leader’s who attempted to make significant changes which address racism and inequality …were assassinated.

Read Ta-Nahesi’s piece. It is brilliant, in it’s veracity…and very human pain.

As Goldie Taylor would say, “Truth Matters”


4 thoughts on “Inconvenient Truths: Fear of a Black President by Ta-Nehisi Coates”

  1. My own rage scares me because it’s grown so much in the last year. It needs a voice, but lately it consumes me more when I set it free than it does when I tamp it down. I need to ‘get somewhere’ and our society makes it clear at nearly every turn that if I speak the truth of my rage in public, my chances to get where I need to be will be limited even more than they are now. I’m tired of being told by powerful, stupid people that race isn’t an issue and I’m tired of trying to speak. This unrelenting circle feeds my depression.

    1. Hi Sparks,

      I understand what you mean about a worsening of anger. I suspect it has something to do with feeling powerless and continually being subject to the racial polarization which has affected so much of our daily lives.

      I think it’s very human to look outside oneself for order when disorder depends on your personal life. Sadly, disorder seems to be trending :(.

      The people that are saying race isn’t an issue or lying. Any examination of American history should quelch the idea of the post-racial utopia people are parroting. In a word, BS.



  2. Your writing is also very compelling and although complex, easy to read. I wish I could achieve the same. You make such a good point that Obama isn’t being called out enough for his mistakes. In my own heart I don’t think this means not supporting him; but rather it is the freedom we are given as Americans to criticize our leader, something that people in other countries don’t have.

    I absolutely can understand why any criticism of him sounds like support for the bat*** insane right wing. But it just isn’t so – and sadly the other parties of this country are being ignored. I also think Obama is the best man for the job; but if his administration is not called out on certain things, it could lead to more apathy and less listening to the American public.

    I was positive I could never understand what my African American friends endured and I had no right to presume so. Until my sister married a black man (a big, beautiful black man as she calls him, LOL). Although they’ve been treated well, I love them both and it would break my heart if they were harassed or threatened. Now I think I have a glimmer of understanding of that tension that must always be there.

    1. Hi Amelie,

      Thanks for commenting! Forgive my delay in replying as I’ve been buried under work and riveted by the debates. Sad to say, for Obama supporters, it was something of a non-event.

      You are absolutley right about calling out the administration on issues, it’s part of our role as citizens. Democracy is an ideal that can only be achieved by a two way engagement between the electorate and their (appointed) officials. Many of the officials need reminding of this fact ;).

      That tension you speak of…is an undeniable part of the American fabric. May it not always be so.

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