NYT’s David Brooks Has Complaints After Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘While White’

July 17, 2015 12:07 p.m.

New York Times columnist David Brooks had a lot of feelings about reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book “while white”, saying that it came as “a slap and a revelation.”

Constructed as a letter to Coates – just as “Between the World and Me” is written as a letter from Coates to his young son – Brooks reflects in his Friday column on Coates’ conception of the American Dream and the “pervasive physicality” of the book, particularly Coates’ oft-quoted idea that, in America, “it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.”

Brooks characterizes a year where police killings of people of color finally entered the American public’s consciousness as a great year of “education for white people,” saying the book “is a mind-altering account of the black male experience. Every conscientious American should read it.”

On the abstract notion of the American dream, Brooks writes: “My ancestors chose to come here,” whereas Coates’ “came in chains” as a possible reason that Coates dismisses the dream as “flimflam” in his book.

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While Brooks acknowledges that, perhaps, a white audience should stop and reflect after reading, he asks: “Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is it my job to respect your experience and accept your conclusions?”

Brooks also pauses to ask whether he, as a white person, has standing to challenge Coates’ appraisal of black life in America at all before continuing on.

“Maybe you will find my reactions irksome,” he wrote. “Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change.”

Before the column was published, Coates tweeted his thoughts about the reoccurring “how should I feel about your book” narrative from non-black audiences, saying, “No intelligent reader — white or otherwise — should want to be condescended to in that way.”

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