what white people talk about when we talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates

Fredrik deBoer on his blog:

CoatesAt its most benign, the tendency to treat praising Coates as a kind of secular sacrament simply makes that praise more awkward than it should be, robs people of the language of simple sincere gratitude that we use to give thanks. He and his essay deserve that sincerity. At its worst, though, it’s an example of a really ugly tendency of white readers to treat black writers as a blank canvas on which to work out their own personal shit about race. Years ago, a commenter on Coates’s blog took this to a certain extreme: “I wish that I could articulate how this article reverberated in my soul. Better, I wish that you, TNC could feel that reverberation, and I could read how you described it.” I don’t know what that is. But it’s not real praise and it’s not real respect. The first respect to pay a writer is the first to pay to any human being, and that’s to treat them as their own particular human self. And my impression is that Coates feels some of this too. Recently, he wrote, “I have no desire to be anybody’s Head Negro—that goes for reparations and beyond.”

I have a transgendered friend who frequently complains that her liberal friends end up treating her as a kind of vessel through which they work out their attitude towards trans issues. I just think that’s a terrible kind of emotional violence to commit against someone. She is quick to say that this is better than an uglier alternative, and that’s true, of course, it is better. But that’s a false choice: we can respect and love people or their work without treating them as symbols first and people, or writers, second.

Read the rest here.