Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘Fatalism Is Not an Option’
By: Kia Makarechi
Protesters in cities across the United States took to the streets Wednesday night to voice their outrage at a grand jury’s decision to not return an indictment for the New York Police Department officer who chocked Eric Garner to death. The news that officer Daniel Pantaleo would not face criminal charges came on the heels of the decision of a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, to not indict Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old teenager.
Garner and Brown were black and unarmed, their killers are white officers. In an enlightening segment on MSNBC, Chris Hayes asked The Atlantic’s senior editor, Ta-Nehisi Coates, how he avoids falling into “fatalism or infinite rage.” Coates’s answer, delivered off the cuff on live television, was as follows:
I don’t know that you avoid infinite rage. I walk around with it. You know, [James] Baldwin talked about this—‘to be black in America is to walk around all a fire, in rage constantly’—so I don’t know if you can avoid that. In terms of avoiding fatalism, listen: I’m the descendant of enslaved black people in this country. You could have been born in 1820, if you were black, and looked back to your ancestors and saw nothing but slaves all the way back to 1619, looked forward another 50 or 60 years and seen nothing but slaves. There was no reason to believe, at that time, that emancipation was 40 or 50 years off. And yet, folks resisted and folks fought on.
So, fatalism isn’t really an option. Even if you think you won’t necessarily win the fight today, in your lifetime, in your child’s lifetime, you still have to fight. It’s kind of selfish to say you will only fight for a victory that you will live to see. As an African-American, we stand on the shoulders of people who fought despite not seeing victories in their lifetime, or even their children’s lifetimes, or even in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. So, fatalism is not an option.
Coates expanded his answer further on Twitter after the show aired, noting that moments of accelerated progress throughout history are seldom solely responses to the acts of courageous or morally correct individuals, but rather the confluence of such acts and broader conflicts or opportunities.
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