“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,” W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Two strong voices – those of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson – insist that DuBois’ observation endures because we have refused to confront it.
In “The First White President,” Coates assails the notion that working-class anger, not race, was the critical factor in Donald Trump’s election. Since Trump beat Clinton among every single white demographic, Coates writes, “any empirical evaluation of the relationship between Trump and the white working class would reveal that one adjective in that phrase is doing more work than the other.” That whiteness “is the very core of his power,” Coates argues, and it is, in the end, a “threat to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world.”
Even as the president has criticized “the removal of our beautiful statues” of Confederate leaders, Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative plans to build a new memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, one that will “commemorate the thousands of African Americans who were lynched during the era of racial terrorism in America,” – a time that happens to coincide with the construction of almost all the Confederate memorials.
On this, the 54th anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a blast that killed four young schoolgirls – and for which the man who set the bomb was convicted of possessing dynamite without a permit, fined $100 and given six months in jail but acquitted, at his first trial, of murder – it seems long past time we stopped mythologizing our Confederate past and owned up instead to its legacy.