The text that is going through my mind this morning is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. I’ve had a half written post sitting on my computer for a long time on the resonances between that book and Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, which is far more lightly written, but which is subtly scathing in its depiction of how racism in America is anterior to, and more fundamental than American national identity. The most important part of Coates’ book, as I read it, is the part that got least attention – its account of American democracy. One of the reasons that liberals like Jonathan Chait get angry with Coates is because of his refusal to accept that things have, in some fundamental way, gotten better. This stems from Coates’ belief, which he develops in the book that the conditions of black people (and others too) are the result of wilful choices by a democratic majority.
The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies — the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects— are the product of democratic will … The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs. (pp. 78-79)
It’s hard to argue with those words this morning.