Coates's "The First White President" and the Coastal Waters of Politics



For my first article for Her Campus, I had planned to write about my experience working at a daily newspaper during the 9/11 attacks.

That's not important now.

As we recognize that moment in history with the placebo holiday known as Patriot Day, I would much rather put on my teaching hat and give you a reading assignment. It's a long one but worth your time if you want to consider yourself a patriot.

Because patriotism should never be synonymous with nationalism, that bread-and-butter ideology of leadership wishing for power instead of governance. Patriotism should be synonymous with understanding your country, all aspects of its past and present, with as little varnish and sheen as possible.

Hence, your assignment: snuggle up on this early autumnal day with a blanket, a cup of tea, and whatever privilege allows you the time and place to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article in The Atlantic, “The First White President.”

A forewarning, there is some harsh word usage, including pejorative words targeting African-Americans and women, but please be assured that the English language in Mr. Coates’s skillful hands is a language fulfilling its duty to inform, instruct, and inspire, even if the message feels dire.

It is important to understand that when people decry “identity politics,” they are not decrying their own identity. They are not decrying the "identity politics" that keeps themselves in power or denies that power to others. They are railing against marginalized people having the audacity to join together, speak up, and demand equal treatment under the law. To fully understand our current political climate, you have to understand the storms that brought us here to begin with. Pundits and prognosticators will try to convince you that there is no overarching force at work in the political atmosphere causing the levels of discontent to rise or warming the seas of resentment, but it is happening all the same. Those people living in the coastal regions, outside the economically secure highlands, those who have always been forced to live near those seas due to their distance from “whiteness” have always stood in the flood waters. They have always been sounding the alarm.

While Mr. Coates’s essay may not have definitive action items upon which to hang your hope, rest assured that the time deconstructing yourself, excising those hidden pockets of racism and sexism and homophobia and all the tiny tumors that make us normalize injustice, that time is well spent. On this Patriot Day, on this day we remember a moment that started an endless war, remember the war that wages here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

We all must be brave, while some of us are not free.