Wednesday Reading List: The Obama Presidency, Revisiting History, and Understanding WTF Happened With Russia

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a big new piece in The Atlantic, wherein he ruminates on the Obama presidency, often with the president himself. It's long, so set aside some time for it; in this particular anecdote, Obama reflects on the extent to which race intersects with policymaking:

 “And so I’m careful not to attribute any particular resistance or slight or opposition to race. But what I do believe is that if somebody didn’t have a problem with their daddy being employed by the federal government, and didn’t have a problem with the Tennessee Valley Authority electrifying certain communities, and didn’t have a problem with the interstate highway system being built, and didn’t have a problem with the GI Bill, and didn’t have a problem with the [Federal Housing Administration] subsidizing the suburbanization of America, and that all helped you build wealth and create a middle class—and then suddenly as soon as African Americans or Latinos are interested in availing themselves of those same mechanisms as ladders into the middle class, you now have a violent opposition to them—then I think you at least have to ask yourself the question of how consistent you are, and what’s different, and what’s changed.”

One big theme of the article is the extent to which, even in the face of overtly bigoted opposition, including from his successor, Obama remains generous of spirit towards White Americans. Coates is careful to point out that this is germane to Obama's upbringing, and Tressie McMillan Cottom, in a response to Coates's piece, provides a different perspective:

Coates argues that Obama knows his whites because he was born to them, raised and loved by them. For this reason, Coates says Obama was able to offer white American “something very few African Americans could—trust.” Obama’s faith in white people’s goodness and white America’s capacity to rise above racism runs throughout his presidency and Coates’s moving, infuriating, eloquent memorial for our first black president. The essay is moving. That is because Coates wrote it. And on the eve of Donald Trump’s presidency, the essay is all the more moving. Many black people will never again have a moment when they feel as American, for good or for ill, as many of us have felt the past eight years. Many of us will never again feel safe from history, seeing it reassert its racist, sexist violence so forcefully back into our political sphere. The essay is also infuriating. It attributes so much of Obama’s improbable presidency to his inimitable faith in white Americans’ higher self, something I can only describe as Obama’s painful rejection of black folks’ agency.

McMillan Cottom argues that, in refusing to construe his opposition as racially motivated, Obama provides "catnip to millions of white voters." I buy this argument, and it's not a far stretch to connect this mentality with "colorblindness," which our culture is in the justifiable process of repudiating. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Obama's presidency absent his dispersal of that particular catnip. I'm ashamed about how this reflects on the White community, surely, but progress must start with an honest reckoning of our present condition.

James E. Ford, writing in Education Post, suggests we start that reckoning by educating children:

What is apparent however, is that most [students] are not exposed to history from diverse perspectives. One could get upset at the likes of Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) for saying White people are hated by Blacks because they’re successful and Black people aren’t. Or at Rep. Steven King (R-IA) who contended that Whites have contributed more to modern civilization than any other subgroup. But honestly, can you blame them? What information have they received to the contrary in their educational career? ... the belief in White Supremacy has been facilitated through a severe miseducation process. It’s the only thing that makes the myth of racial superiority believable. A true historical examination of the aforementioned claims would most certainly force a shift in paradigm. I’d be willing to guess believers in this ideology have likely never been exposed to a historical education where Europe is not completely centered.

Unfortunately, what Ford suggests is considered radical in some circles, even "enlightened" educational ones, but that all goes back to education. If your own educational experience led you to believe that the only place where meaningful historical events happened outside of the United States was on one continent between the 12th and 18th centuries, you might have been duped.

Speaking of duped: Russia! Holy crap! This topic is a little outside of the normal scope of this blog, but the rules are off of late, am I right? I'm not sure folks grasp the immensity of what happened, so I recommend that you read three articles. First, Eric Lipton, David Sanger, and Scott Shane of The New York Times put together a detailed rundown of what actually happened:

While there’s no way to be certain of the ultimate impact of the hack, this much is clear: A low-cost, high-impact weapon that Russia had test-fired in elections from Ukraine to Europe was trained on the United States, with devastating effectiveness. For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of all-out war, cyberpower proved the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.

Once you've had some time to understand the unprecedented level of aggression involved here, read Alan Feuer & Andrew Higgins, also in The New York Times, then Peter Beinart in The Atlantic, to understand the domestic and global forces that shaped this moment. In particular, the connections between Russian authoritarianism and domestic White supremacy should concern you.