Professor Jason D. Hill, a Jamaican-born professor of philosophy at DePaul University, writes in An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates: writes that Coate’s ideology and his book, Between the World and Me, “function as deputized stand-ins for the black male and the black experience in America, respectively. And I believe that as stand-ins, both fail. Because I write as a black immigrant who chose to live in the United States, whose biggest hope as a child was to become an American citizen, and who chose to embrace the American Dream you condemn, please consider these words my Declaration of Independence—an independence that only my beloved America could have given to me.”
Continues Hill later in his letter:
I am saddened by your conviction that white people wield such a great deal of metaphysical power over the exercise of your own agency. In making an enemy of the Dream that is a constitutive feature of American identity, you have irrevocably alienated yourself from the redemptive hope, the inclusive unity, and the faith and charity that are necessary for America to move ever closer to achieving moral excellence. Sadder still, you have condemned the unyielding confidence in self that the Dream inspires.
Hill continues to make many important points, such as why…
1. The American Dream is proof of the metaphysical impotence of racism:
In the 32 years I have lived in this great country, I have never once actively fought racism. I have simply used my own example as evidence of its utter stupidity and moved forward with absolute metaphysical confidence, knowing that the ability of other people to name or label me has no power over my self-esteem, my mind, my judgment, and—above all—my capacity to liberate myself through my own efforts.
On this matter, you have done your son—to whom you address your book—an injustice. You write: “The fact of history is that black people have not—probably no people ever have—liberated themselves strictly by their own efforts. In every great change in the lives of African Americans we see the hands of events that were beyond our individual control, events that were not unalloyed goods.”
I do not believe you intended to mislead your son, but in imparting this credo, you have potentially paralyzed him, unless he reappraises your philosophy and rejects it. In your misreading of America, you’ve communicated precisely why many blacks in this country have been alienated from their own agency and emancipatory capabilities. The most beleaguered people on the planet, the Jews, who have faced persecution since their birth as a people, are a living refutation of your claim.
2. There is nothing beautiful, noble or special about skin color per se:
You touch on your flirtation with some special black racial essentialism in your book, and it is both affecting and sympathetic: “My working theory then held all black people as kings in exile, a nation of original men severed from our original names and our majestic Nubian culture. Surely this was the message I took from gazing out in the [Howard] Yard. Had any people, anywhere, ever been as sprawling and beautiful as us?” Unfortunately, there is nothing special about the black body. There is nothing special about any racially distinct physical body per se. Black skin does not convey nobility. Neither does white skin, or yellow skin. Your body is not special until it conjoins itself to a mind and adapts nature to its needs and desires and rational aspirations, its self-actualization and manifested agency. Any human body that fails to achieve a self-cultivated moral character and inscrutable human will is merely an ecological social ballast: ignoble, exploitable, a heap of unintelligible flesh on this earth.
3. Abnegation of personal responsibility promotes the pathology of black on black crime:
This abnegation of personal responsibility assumes its logical end in your failure to grant black people responsibility for their own lives in the phenomenon of black-on-black crime. You tell your son: “Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence to language . . . . To yell black-on-black crime is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.” Why? You give no reasons. In truth, black-on-black crime is a pathology that has to be reckoned with.
4. So-called reparations are based on the racist notion of collective guilt:
No self-respecting black person ought to take a single penny from the state for the infliction of any ancestral damage. The very premise supposes that blacks are wards of the state. If individual rights are currently being violated by states that illegally discriminate against blacks, that is a matter to be redressed in the courts. People who are possessed of self-esteem, who are dignified individuals capable of supporting themselves, do not seek any form of reparations. It is beneath them. Reason indicated that you cannot codify either collective guilt or collective entitlement. And reparations are predicated on the attribution of collective guilt, which in turn is based on the worst form of racism: biological collectivism. […] By what impertinence would you hold any white person guilty for the crime of simply being born white? You would, perhaps, imply that an accident of birth confers on them a white privilege for which they are to spend the rest of their lives atoning.
5. On why individualism is the solution to the collectivism of racism:
I myself have cultivated a love of humanity. It is a love for the human species that involves, above all, and paradoxically, a ruthless practice of individualism. This is America, where chromosomal predestination must be challenged by individual achievement.[…]
Here’s another idea: How about blacks just ask that white people not regard them as anything special and not obstruct their efforts to enhance their lives?
But I suspect my request for our being ignored and left alone to create our own destiny will not satisfy you. This is because you are trading on black suffering to create a perpetual caste of racial innocents. And the currency of your economic system is white guilt.
An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates is must reading.