'We exist—and then we don't'

Ta-Nehisi Coates on reading American history as a black man:

Dave Chapelle has that great bit where he goes back in time with a white guy and sees Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence, and when he finishes he looks at Chappelle and says, “Get me a sandwich, nigger!” I remember watching George Will talk about “the mood of Americans” in the 1950s, and being seized by the notion that he wasn’t talking about the “mood” of a single person I would have known in 1950. We exist in this country’s history—and then we don’t.
When I watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War, I remember feeling like the doc had a Southern slant, because he seemed caught up in the romance of the war. The whole time I’m getting that, and yet trying to put myself in that time—but in that time, I am property, or something in between. Nothing romantic there.

IMAGE: “African American high school girl being educated via television during the period that the Little Rock (Arkansas) schools were closed to avoid integration.” September 1958. Photograph by Thomas J. O’Halloran, USNWR. (Via Shorpy)


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