Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Long Ways to Go

I find in Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander two of the most important writers/voices of our time, especially when it comes to race and racism in America.  Through the specificity of his work on reparations, Coates opens up a compelling discussion of history, grievance, even sin (my word).  And he asks how a democratic people honestly and effectively deals with the bloody past.  For the sake of the blessed present and future.  Through the specificity of her work on the prison-industrial complex, Alexander sounds an urgent call for repentance, reform and (in effect) revolution where criminal justice is concerned.  For the sake of our people, our neighbors, our kids.

As I navigate my own worlds of privilege, these are the kinds of writers who speak clearly and forcefullyTo me.  Even more, they insist on meaningful action, on my part, and on the part of folks like me.  They make a claim on my time, my energy, my moral participation.  To turn from these issues is to miss the point.  Of America.

So their thoughts this week--Coates on "Democracy Now" and Alexander in "The Nation"--are worth our time and effort.  Here, they weigh in--tentatively, on Coates' part--on the Presidential primaries of 2016.
What I get from their thinking is just this: that there's still more work to be done by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in addressing the historic and contemporary needs and issues of black Americans.  The conversation to this point is incomplete.  A deeper probing of mass incarceration is necessary.  A more complex grappling with reparations is necessary.  And so much, so much, so much more.  Policing.  Economics.  Education.  So much more.  

I guess the point is that it's politically unwise and morally just wrong for any candidate to presume the support of the so-called "black" vote.  Particularly now, particularly in THIS Democratic primary, there has to be a vital and thoughtful and far-reaching debate about race in America.  And all that that means.

I may be naive, woefully so; but I want to say that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders can deliver.  Not perfectly, because their limitations are clear: but they can take this conversation to a higher level.  To do this, they'd be wise to invite folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander to the table.  Because it's not just about Al Sharpton and the so-called "black" vote.  It's about America and where we're going.