A Bold New Strategy

Is National Review just trolling us?

The simpler explanation is that articles like this amount to perennial “comfort food” for Republican activists—presented as bold, new strategery, which only a hard-hitting journal like NR would dare publish.

The article itself is behind a paywall. Its author, Theodore Johnson, who is Black, has also argued that, in lieu of reparations, Black voters should receive five-thirds of a vote (a reversal of the legendary “three-fifths clause” in the Constitution).

Johnson seems to have emerged out one of Rich Lowry’s wet dreams. With a military background and a degree from Harvard in International Relations, he could play the part of a patriotic token in a Tom Clancy thriller (or a Rich Lowry pot boiler). Johnson's personal webpage features a picture of him standing in front of what looks like the Nasdaq stock exchange. On the other hand, he writes the kind of soulful prose that’s reminiscent of a recent MacArther “genius” grant recipient. Here’s a selection from Johnson’s latest article in The Atlantic:

This is what it feels like to be black in America. It sounds like the symphony of locking car doors as I traipse through a grocery store parking lot, armed with kale chips and turkey bacon. It looks like smiling when I don’t feel like it. It’s the instinct to enunciate differently, to use acceptable methods of signaling that I am safe to engage, or at least to disregard. “We wear the mask that grins and lies,” wrote the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. I feel that mask covering my soul, never allowing me to just freely exist.

As I move around the country, the behavior that greets me is usually more influenced by the black faces that fill crime-ridden local newscasts than the exceptionality of James Baldwin or Thurgood Marshall.

I could argue that any negative reaction to my skin is a problem for others to grapple with and of no concern to me. I’ve tried that approach before; one memorable attempt ended with me being pulled out of my car by two police officers and handcuffed for the felonious infractions of having a blown headlight and insufficient self-abasement. It is an unspoken rule that blackness’ first and most important task is to make everyone feel safe from it. We ignore this mandate at our own peril, realizing that a simple misunderstanding is a life or death proposition.

Jonathan Ferrell ran towards police seeking help after a car accident and was given a hail of bullets for his troubles. Renisha McBride went in search of a Good Samaritan after her accident and a shotgun blast answered her knock. Teenager Trayvon Martin walked home with candy and tea and was greeted by the nervous trigger finger wrapped in an adult’s gun. Jordan Davis sat in a car outside a convenience store listening to music and a man who objected to the volume cut his life short with the boom of a firearm. The principal crime all of them committed, like countless others over the centuries, was being black and not sufficiently prostrating themselves to ensure the comfort of others.

So how long before Ta-Nehisi Coates is penning articles for National Review?