Category Archives: Coates

Facts Matter ! Part 2


The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has found its lyricist in the person of Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of a just-out 42000-word remonstrance, Between the World and Me.  Its thesis is simple:  white America is out to destroy the black body;  what happened in Ferguson and on Staten Island is no more and no less than the same murderous path taken by white America since slavery, against the black body. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” (Emphasis in original.)  Moreover, the dust jacket of  Coates’ pamphlet, both in front and in back, contains an urgent recommendation by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison:  “This is required reading.”

As I have shown in my previous posting, there are roughly 1100 black-on-black murders, annually, for each case of police brutality alleged by BLM.  This is not a circumstance that Coates will acknowledge explicitly.  But he is enough of an honest autobiographer to describe the cultural factors surrounding what he describes as  his chronic fears as a young man:  the violence in the streets, the beatings he received from his father, the violence of black neighborhoods.  But he rejects any sort of agency on the part of the black community:  “To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Let’s see now.  Black men kill other black men, and that’s the fault of white America.  I am sure that there are Nobel laureates (in literature) who will be persuaded by this argument, but is it  coherent ?

In stark contrast to the Coates volume we have have another recent publication, The Cultural Matrix, by the distinguished Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson and his associates.  No Nobel prize winners, to my knowledge, have endorsed this one.  And while the Coates volume is a current Amazon best-seller, ranking #25 for all books and #1 for books on African Americans, the Patterson work ranks but #207,816 for all books and #810 for books on African Americans.  Not much worldly acclaim for this outstanding, comprehensive piece of scholarship.

Patterson and his team do not hesitate to examine all the “structural” constraints on the black population, the persisting racism, poverty, residential segregation, over-incarceration.  But neither do they shrink from exploring the “cultural” factors, the violence of a minority that endangers all in black neighborhoods, the unstable family structure that damages so much of black youth.  In short, the black population is not only victim but is also an agent of its own plight.

As it happens, the Patterson volume is also a bargain.  At a list price of $45 and with its hefty 555,000 words, the cost comes to 8¢ per 1000 words.  Compare this to the little Coates volume, at $24 for 4200 words, or fully 57¢ per 1000.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 2015

The New Yorker of Sept.14 has an absolutely brilliant article on this subject by Kelefa Sanneh, Body Count.

UPDATE, October 3, 2015

Here is another brilliant piece by Kelefa Sanneh, viz. a review of Patterson volume that I mention above.  See “Don’t Be Like That,” in the New Yorker of Feb. 9, 2005.

UPDATE October 25, 2015

Here is a New York Times analysis, dated October 16, Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say