Americans Believe in the Reality of “Race”

"Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men."

Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests in this passage that the way Americans think about race—and use the concept of race as a biological reality to justify racist acts—is deeply problematic. In Coates’s view, racism is not the product of the existence of race. Rather, the concept of race is the product of racism; that is, it is the product of the need to establish a hierarchy in which those “the people who believe they are white” are at the top. Coates sees the idea that racism is natural and beyond human control as an attempt to avoid responsibility for atrocities like the Middle Passage (the transport of captured Africans across the Atlantic to the West Indies, where they would be sold into slavery) and the Trail of Tears (the forced relocation of the indigenous peoples of the southeastern United States to the newly designated “Indian Territory”).

I Had No Sense That Any Just God Was on My Side

"I could not retreat, as did so many, into the church and its mysteries. My parents rejected all dogmas. We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems. We would not kneel before their God. And so I had no sense that any just God was on my side. ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ meant nothing to me. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)