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Context Won’t Help You Here, Son


Bryan Lowder’s defense of Richard Cohen is…highly unpersuasive. Coates addresses the strange “context” defense:

The problem here isn’t that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist, but “conventional” or “culturally conservative.” Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn’t racism, then there is no racism.

Context can not improve this. “Context” is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear. And horse-shit is the context in which Richard Cohen has, for all these years, wallowed. It is horse-shit to claim that store owners are right to discriminate against black males. It is horse-shit to claim Trayvon Martin was wearing the uniform of criminals. It is horse-shit to subject your young female co-workers to “a hostile work environment.” It is horse-shit to expend precious newsprint lamenting the days when slovenly old dudes had their pick of 20-year-old women. It is horse-shit to defend a rapist on the run because you like The PianistAnd it is horse-shit for Katharine Weymouth, the Post‘s publisher, to praise a column with the kind of factual error that would embarrass a j-school student.

This is exactly right — adding as “context” Cohen’s comparison with Dixiecrats really doesn’t help, unless you think Chris Rock’s joke about how people think they can’t be racist unless they personally shot Medgar Evers is actually the proper criterion to evaluate whether a statement is racist. If Cohen’s only claim had been that revulsion to interracial marriage was the “conventional view,” perhaps (at least, speaking of context, if you were dealing with someone without Cohen’s history of writing on race) you could be charitable and say that he is merely too lazy to check basic facts. But he started of the paragraph by saying that people who he goes on to claim are repulsed by interracial marriage “are not racist.” There just isn’t any context that’s going to save that.

Admittedly, things can get much worse than a #slatepitch:

For the record, Richard Cohen disagrees with the things expressed by his words when you read then back to him. Now that’s great writing! I look forward to Wolff’s forthcoming column about how Alice Munro might be the better person, but everyone knows Dan Brown is the superior prose stylist.

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