Enough With the Racism of 'Good People'

Ta-Nehisi Coates is tired of forgiving them

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 7, 2013 12:54 PM CST

(Newser) – An employee in a New York City deli accused a black man of shoplifting last month and frisked him on the spot, an event made remarkable only because the falsely accused happened to be Oscar winner Forest Whitaker. It's a great deli, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in the New York Times, and its owners are "good people." But Coates, himself black, is done rationalizing such lapses—and he's done going to the deli. "We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant," he writes. "Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place."

We like to tell ourselves that racism exists only in evil people. Not so. Decades of misguided policies (think urban renewal) have created a wealth gap between the races "that haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence" and makes incidents like Whitaker's commonplace. "The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the 'middle class,' will be treated as such," he writes. But this doesn't apply to black people, "because we were never meant to be part of the American story." Coates figured out his response to the deli incident when he imagined it happening to his son. "And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take." Click for Coates' full column.

Actor Forest Whitaker in a file photo.
Actor Forest Whitaker in a file photo.   (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
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