Ta-Nehisi Coates is a blogger for the Atlantic. I disagree with him on nearly every political issue, but I do enjoy reading him. And I like him. He’s an autodidact like me, and he’s constantly trying to learn new things and read more books. It’s just fun to read about what he’s up to.
I have also learned new perspectives on race from Coates. He’s at his best when he’s talking about his own experience growing up black in Baltimore, but sometimes he lets his dislike for conservatives get the better of him. When conservatives are involved, Coates is capable of jumping to the ugliest conclusion without pausing to give a man the benefit of the doubt. He did that recently when he commented on an article by David Corn in the far-left magazine Mother Jones.
Corn found a video of Senator Ted Cruz’s elderly father, Rafael Cruz, giving a speech this past spring. Unfortunately, the video is no longer online, so I have to describe it from memory.
Rafael Cruz was speaking about Obama’s presidency. He was urging the crowd to oppose Obama, and he said he wanted to “send him back to Chicago.” This is an ordinary political line, and it’s utterly unremarkable. Then Cruz added, “or preferably back to Kenya or [inaudible]. I listened to the recording three times and could not make out the third location. My guess is that it was either Hawaii or Indonesia.
The point is that Rafael Cruz was talking about defeating Obama politically and sending him back home. Obama has had many homes. Chicago was Obama’s home from the time he completed graduate school until he was elected president. Kenya was the home of the father who abandoned him, and Obama famously traveled there to meet his family and wrote about it affectionately. Hawaii and Indonesia were both places where Obama lived as a child.
There was nothing offensive or newsworthy about this comment. It was valuable to the left, however, because it was Ted Cruz’s father. That meant it was an opportunity to harm Senator Cruz by attacking his father, and David Corn grabbed it, writing about what a terrible person Rafael Cruz was for urging that Obama be sent back to Kenya.
Unfortunately, Coates read Corn’s article and wrote a post in which he went even further than Corn. Coates changed Rafael Cruz’s words. He completely ignored the fact that Cruz first mentioned Chicago, and he replaced the word Kenya with the much broader word “Africa.” So now the story that Coates tells is that Rafael Cruz said Obama should be sent back to Africa because he’s black and black men don’t belong in America.
No honest observer of that video clip could conclude that Rafael Cruz was making such an exhortation. The story that Coates tells is a slander on Rafael Cruz (himself an immigrant from Cuba who speaks with an accent and has likely experienced ethnic discrimination in America), and it’s a vicarious slander on Senator Ted Cruz. Coates should remove the inaccurate language in his headline and correct the post. There’s enough real racism in the world already. We don’t need to invent more of it just to win political battles.