Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pankaj Mishra reviews ‘We Were Eight Years in Power’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates · LRB 22 February 2018

Conservatives and socialists should like Pankaj Mishra reviews ‘We Were Eight Years in Power’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates for its damning account of the Obama years and its take on Coates' facile analysis of racism. I particularly liked this paragraph:
As early as 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois identified fear and loathing of minorities as a ‘public and psychological wage’ for many whites in American society. More brazenly than his predecessors, Trump linked the misfortunes of the ‘white working class’ to Chinese cheats, Mexican rapists and treacherous blacks. But racism, Du Bois knew, was not just an ugly or deep-rooted prejudice periodically mobilised by opportunistic politicians and defused by social liberalism: it was a widely legitimated way of ordering social and economic life, with skin colour only one way of creating degrading hierarchies. Convinced that the presumption of inequality and discrimination underpinned the making of the modern world, Du Bois placed his American experience of racial subjection in a broad international context. Remarkably, all the major black writers and activists of the Atlantic West, from C.L.R. James to Stuart Hall, followed him in this move from the local to the global. Transcending the parochial idioms of their national cultures, they analysed the way in which the processes of capital accumulation and racial domination had become inseparable early in the history of the modern world; the way race emerged as an ideologically flexible category for defining the dangerously lawless civilisational other – black Africans yesterday, Muslims and Hispanics today. The realisation that economic conditions and religion were as much markers of difference as skin colour made Nina Simone, Mohammed Ali and Malcolm X, among others, connect their own aspirations to decolonisation movements in India, Liberia, Ghana, Vietnam, South Africa and Palestine. Martin Luther King absorbed from Gandhi not only the tactic of non-violent protest but also a comprehensive critique of modern imperialism. ‘The Black revolution,’ he argued, much to the dismay of his white liberal supporters, ‘is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes.’