Everyone is talking about Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, Between the World and Me, including New York Times columnist David Brooks. In an op-ed published today, written letter-style to Coates in the same way Coates addressed his book to his 14-year-old son, Brooks acknowledges that "the last year has been an education for white people"—and that Coates' tome "is a great and searing contribution to this public education. It is a mind-altering account of the black male experience. Every conscientious American should read it." But Brooks has found what he calls a "disturbing challenge" within the pages of Coates' non-sugarcoated take on being black in America: "your rejection of the American dream." Brooks chastises Coates for giving up on that dream.
He acknowledges that his own ancestors "chose to come here," while Coates' "came in chains," but he laments Coates' reaction to history. "For you, slavery is the original American sin, from which there is no redemption. America is Egypt without the possibility of the Exodus." Brooks goes on to tell Coates that he takes as "a slap and a revelation" Coates' admission that he watched, as Brooks puts it, "the smoldering towers of 9/11 with a cold heart." "Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree?" Brooks asks. "Does a white person have standing to respond?" Brooks tells Coates he has chosen to "distort American history. ... By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future." (Read Brooks' column in the Times, or see a disapproving response here.)