What Black People Know Cannot Be Said

Ta-Nehisi CoatesBlack people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying dead in the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who “bulk up” to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.

What clearly cannot be said is that American society’s affection for nonviolence is notional. What can not be said is that American society’s admiration for Martin Luther King Jr increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence — like nonviolence — sometimes works. “Property damage and looting impede social progress,” Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. It describes everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining…

What cannot be said is that America does not really believe in nonviolence — Barack Obama has said as much — so much as it believes in order. What cannot be said is that there are very convincing reasons for black people in Ferguson to be nonviolent. But those reasons emanate from an intelligent fear of the law, not a benevolent respect for the law.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *