David Brooks doesn’t listen, and thus, gets to be an avatar for white America

So over the years, various and sundry people, usually men, have wondered: why does Lisa dislike David Brooks so much? (There are other high profile, clueless people I can add to my list of people I would to pinch really hard, but they are off-topic). Brooks gave me another reason for my dislike with this new piece.

Brooks clearly meant “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White” to seem to be a mostly complimentary review of Coates’ new book. Instead, it winds up being a “I’m totally listening and down with y’all, but lemme tell y’all” moment.

In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

Sullied? Abandoning “old wrongs.” Boy, those black people sure know how to hold onto a grudge, don’t they?


Coates’ point: When African Americans have to fear for their lives every single day, then the wrongs are not in the past. We have nice, fresh wrongs to be focussing on. Wrongs are an everyday occurrence in a country whose ideals fail to inform its practices and institutions, systematically, for racial minorities. The problem isn’t the vision, which is what Brooks wants to bang on about; the dream Coates is describing isn’t a theoretical vision for a perfect political community; the dream, or perhaps better stated, the myth, is that our existing political community guarantees these civil liberties, and that thus, we have political and legal equality.

We don’t. Not according to the numbers. And not according to Coates’ experiences, and not according to the experiences of many, many African American writers and thinker who have to say the same things over and over to white America.

So when does the actual “listening to Coates” part of this start?

And then this line really pisses me off because it is a Brooks Tactic 101:

You obviously do not mean that literally today (sometimes in your phrasing you seem determined to be misunderstood).

Yeah, go back to writing school, Coates, cuz ya know, I just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaand you. A cheap shot, from guy who has built his career claiming the moral high ground while punching downward and indulging in cheap shots.