Notes to Ta-Nehisi Coates

In his article on why blacks to do not study the Civil War Mr. Coates wrote the following:

The 20th century, with its struggles for equal rights, with the triumph of democracy as the ideal in Western thought, proved Douglass right. The Civil War marks the first great defense of democracy and the modern West. Its legacy lies in everything from women’s suffrage to the revolutions now sweeping the Middle East. It was during the Civil War that the heady principles of the Enlightenment were first, and most spectacularly, called fully to account.


I think Mr. Coates should reconsider this statement.

And he should reconsider his Atlantic article The First White President.


Was the Civil War a defense of democracy? When called fully to account did the principles of the Enlightenment meet the test?  Did the Civil War succeed?  It abolished slavery but did not grant equal rights. Leading up to the war there was much anti-slavery sentiment but very little thought of equality for blacks.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a white man granting the black man freedom.  The white man had no right to enslave and he had no right to grant freedom.  In any case, freedom was granted without equal rights.

Could the slaves have eventually organized their own “black” rebellion?  There have been articulate voices acknowledge the strength of the black social structure and force of resistance in the years before the Civil War.  Would the slave have been better off if they had succeed in their own rebellion even if it came years later?

Was the Civil War a way for whites to free blacks from one form of slavery only to enslave them in another form?

Reconstruction followed the Civil War.  Reconstruction was just the beginning of the next nightmare for blacks.

The violence and repression of Jim Crow and the KKK naturally followed failed reconstruction.

With the Civil Rights legislation, the white man once again emancipated the black man by granting the black man rights, many of which in theory, though not in practice, the blacks already had in the written law.  It was an illusion of equal rights.  MLK should have had a fantasy not a dream.

Civil Rights led to the insidious and institutionalized repression we now have in America.  More dangerous perhaps than other repressive eras because it is so well disguised.  It is another illusion of equality.

Blacks became African Americans, a name blacks accept and has become the legal language of the law in America.  Was this not just another way to identify blacks as an “other”, as the permanent “other” of America?  Is an African American any different than a Negro?

Election of T proves the deep and intractable racism in America.  T used the fear in whites to win.  As Mr. Coates pointed out in The First White President T was elected largely by votes from well off white people.  The whites could claim to be free of racism and in favor of equality while electing someone who would institute the racist policies that they favored but could not bring themselves to openly advocate.

Are blacks seeing the racism?  Everyone knew what T was and the voters elected him anyway.  Now they see him in the office acting as a racist.  What will the blacks think after four years of further proof of the country’s racism when the country re-elects T?

Will T turn out to be the best bad event ever for blacks?  Will this wake them to illusion they have been living about equality and racism in America?

Will they realize that T is not, as Mr. Coates contends, the first white president?  Will they realize that all the presidents save one were white men?

What action will result from this awakening, if the awakening even happens?

Will it lead to renewed force to demand the integration promised by the Civil Rights movement? Renewed force to demand equal treatment under the law?

Will it lead to renewed force for the separation once advocated by the Black Power movement?

Or will it someday simply result in force itself? To violence?

In two hundred years, in twenty years, in ten years will America finally divide along the lines that have existed since its inception in the 1700’s?

I have always believed the dissolution of America will happen. All nations, empires, kingdoms, dictatorships eventually fail.  A common dominator of that inevitable failure is a society identifying and declaring war on an “other.”

I believe that history will judge America harshly, identifying slavery and racism as the principal cause if its failure.

I thought this would happen to America one hundred years from now, even two hundred years from now.

I am no longer sure we will last that long.

This dissolution is not something that will happen in the future.  It is happening right now and it is growing.  States already make their own laws in contradiction to national laws. Voter suppression grows with little or no effort by the national law makers to stop it.

Emotionally and psychologically, citizens do not feel much bond with other regions of the country.

How many people in California would be happy to join the United States of the Pacific?  How many southerners would be happy to see them leave?  How many Texans already consider themselves part of a separate nation? What about the famously independent thinkers in the far north east of the country?  Would they be happy to free themselves from the national restrictions and identification placed on them?

There are rural areas in the US trying to vote themselves out of county governments dominated by one or two large cities.

How far is all of this from cessation, from dissolution?

Once only thought of as a fringe thinking, cessation advocates are, I believe, much stronger and more numerous than some may think.  If not yet a serious movement, then the cessation sentiment is stronger than many think it is.

Like Mr. Coates, I do not know or offer solutions to this view of mine.  I doubt that there are any solutions.  I believe the dissolution is inevitable.  Unfortunately, in the history of civilized society a change like this has never happened peacefully.