Ta-Nehisi Coates on HBO’s ‘Confederate’: ‘Skepticism Must Be the Order of the Day’ — IndieWire

As you might expect of an alternate-history TV series in which the South won the Civil War and slavery has yet to be abolished, “Confederate” hasn’t come as welcome news to many. The upcoming show from “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss has already been protested on social media, with many hoping…

via Ta-Nehisi Coates on HBO’s ‘Confederate’: ‘Skepticism Must Be the Order of the Day’ — IndieWire

While reading this I couldn’t help but feel many of my thoughts were echoed. While people say this is about censorship and blah blah blah. To me I have these thoughts:

  1. This show feels like it is capitalizing on black pain and trauma in a period where we black folk are intensely aware of our vulnerability, and don’t need an alternative history to see that. It has been the tradition to say “At least we aren’t that”, but in many places around this country the confederacy is integrated into everyday lives. Monuments, holidays, and even up north and out west the confederacy remains a heroic entity. Hell in Europe some white nationalists, due to banning of nazi flags, have begun using confederate flags. Racism isn’t an alternative history. It is our lived experiences and capitalizing on that due to an up-surge of fear and nationalism from a majority white lead and controlled production feels like the same exploitative tune we’ve heard before.
  2. I question whether a show lead by people who can’t properly tackle rape and sexual politics on a channel that uses sex and violence as over use titillation can both be trusted with this material. My gut instinct is no. Often, I feel white culture has a very real element of minorities, especially blacks, being told to accept on good faith the work, ideas, and arguments of the “rational” white folk. We are asked to accept on good faith that this will be handled well, and while it’s fair to say “Watch the show then decide” it’s equally fair for people to say “Based on your previous work I don’t fucking trust you and quite frankly I have no interest in what you can do.” We don’t have to explain ourselves. We don’t have to argue with you. We can say our piece and move the fuck on, and don’t you dare demand that we should play a game we’ve played with a dozen other white folks because it’s  new to you. We’re tired. We just are, and just let it be what it will be.
  3. Parading two black people, even if they are willingly participating, around as though that gets the minority stamp of approval on a product is disgusting and repellent. I don’t blame the 2 black writers for Confederate for taking the job or defending it. They’ve gotta hustle and they gotta stand by their work, but 2 black folk doesn’t ever discount other black folk. We’re people not props and regardless of whether you agree with someone there’s something fucking distasteful about
  4. white-fragility-love-life-of-an-asian-guy-photoWhite fragility is very real in our society, and for you snowflakes, I don’t mean all white people, but I do mean white society. Would Confederate have the balls to actually avoid doing the “good white/bad white” dichotomy and show the full extent of racism’s hold on conscious and unconscious perception. If the answer is no, and I believe it is, I have no interest in seeing it. Why should I when I’ve seen that in nearly every Civil Rights and Slavery era film dealing with race in anyway?

    Django is a good film, but if the German doctor wasn’t there most of the Tarantino fans would be calling the film a racist black power fantasy. It is the German doctor’s goodness and the white plantation owners intense cruelty that make Django palatable to them even as Tarantino subversively questions aspects of “Good white men” via the German Doctor. Say what you want about the lead and creator, the story of Nat Turner in Birth of a Nation, does an awesome job of dismissing the myth of the enlightened abolitionist, the good white woman who doesn’t really “see race” like her contemporaries, and doesn’t create progressive whites to make the white audience feel better about American or International history. The good white folk may have more sympathy, but they are no less racist. This white woman teaches Nat Turner, but is careful to keep him from anything except the bible even saying “his kind” can’t understand concepts such as freedom, liberty, etc. Her progressivism, much like some modern progressive views, is just paternalism.

    Is that to say there were no progressive thinkers? Not at all, but even among progressive thinkers white folk who would break bread with every day black folk and not condescend or evoke racist ideals in some form were rare. Even among African Americans there was a very strong participation in the belief of Africans as more “primitive” until the rise of Pan-Africanism. Racism is constantly depicted as the great evil of evil people when evil is mundane, cruelty mundane, and while we made say it was evil wealthy white men who were drunks or insane or greedy who were cruel we know for a fact it’d never been just them.

    Proud women of the KKK. They weren’t some ambiguous evil. They were the PTA, the sales clerks, the stay-at-home moms. Racism isn’t some cackling villain or redneck.

    Plenty of folk ,including people of color, didn’t care about black lives in the 1800s and still don’t, and it isn’t a matter of bombing churches or even denying all job applications from blacks. White fragility prefers the existence of monsters in the face of angels  who extol  the modern ideals of liberty, freedom, and life to all races in defiance of time and place. That’s not realistic and it isn’t honest, and us black folk know it isn’t honest, and have talked about it for years…now ya’ll just know about it.

    Yet portraying this makes a lot of people uncomfortable often conveyed in meetings as being too harsh and unfair depictions. There is an innate discomfort  when they are faced with being held responsible for the continued damage of their culture and the continuation of racial evils. Always we are asked to go “But not you. You’re good” by virtue of white characters the audience is expected to relate to as representing enlightenment. But in the 1800s and on enlightenment was part of phrenology, the belief in civilization versus everything not European, that Blacks had to go be sent to Africa to protect white folks and white society even if blacks should be free. I continue to affirm and believe most white folk have the moral character to move beyond fragility to something more, but I do not trust television executives to be open to doing so in their professional lives. I do not trust a room full of mostly white writers to do so in their professional lives to a degree that is clear in their story telling. I know most of my readers have, my friends have, and my loved ones. I am very lucky in that, but I have seen even the most liberal of white folk engage in behaviors dripping with fragility when it comes to Confederate and #NoConfederate. And it’s not unexpected. I don’t want this story to contain a major story line of a good white couple(looking at you #Underground) being completely or mostly beyond racism or moving beyond it in the span of just a few weeks or months in the shows timelines. That’s not how that works. Ever.

  5. Why this show and why not a dozen other media that exists about black freedom? 51mi3liebwl-_ac_ul320_sr222320_Why not an alternative history where blacks rebelled or where Haiti gained the upper hand alla some of N.K Jemison’s works or Kindred’s exploration of sexual exploitation, interracial relationships, liberal guilt, and race? Why not but the rights to WGN’s series Underground? I ask these questions because there’s something particularly insidious about how the white gaze conceptualizes confederate tortures, excused as southern, yet is unable and unwilling to engage in truly challenging works from black american creators. That is what made Get Out’s success so fucking shocking, and I question if people have already forgotten about it’s success. In my heart of hearts, there is something deeply wrong when I see people defending Confederate, people calling Wakanda unrealistic, and the jump to put on shows about black trauma before putting on shows about black liberation via a fantasy/scientific lenses from non-black creators.

Well those are some of my thoughts, but I’m dying to hear other people’s opinions and views.


8 thoughts on “Ta-Nehisi Coates on HBO’s ‘Confederate’: ‘Skepticism Must Be the Order of the Day’ — IndieWire

  1. Just the thought of that show makes me sick to my stomach and hell I don’t trust Benioff and Weiss with it giving how they handle rape and the white savior complex in GoT. I love Dany as a character, but it’s like they purposely made all the freed slaves people of color when the books are pretty clear Tha was not the case, but whatever. I have some issues with GRRM’s excuses, too, because contrary to the false narrative, Europe was not racially homogenous even in the Middle Ages, which is the timeline ASOIAF/GOT mimics.

    I agree with with your sentiments. Black pain has become just another minstrel show in this modern age. We don’t need to have where people in black face (though they still try to justify that shit) when we have Internet and instant videos that can capitulate on stereotypes. The media eats that up then presents it to viewers. This is why I still get the “you speak so well!” like its a fucking surprise because without effort you’re only seeing what you’re shown.

    I got ranty there. It just irks me, and the “we have black writers!” smacks of the “token black friend.” Ugh.


    1. I appreciate your “ranty”. You always have great comments, and give me something new to think about.

      So my feeling is them making the slaves people of color was their attempt to try and speak about injustice and make it, in their eyes, world relatable. That makes it even worse.

      This belief that black and brown people have and always will be slaves in pre-modern settings is reflective of a world where people, especially non-blacks, have been allowed to believe the myth that before modern times those people have no civilization or maybe even existed. The image of the brown servant and slave is so deeply ingrained in western civilization. And even worse the idea of slavery has been conceptualized as inherently race based and removed from the reality that slavery as came to be in the 1700s was a new invention despite ethnic groups being oppressed and forced into certain class positions it had never existed as it did beginning in the 1700s. The Romans and greeks believed the Ethiopians to be one of the most pious and handsome people of the world. Brits were savages in their eyes. It’s far more complex and that is something people don’t bring to their products when writing slavery and creating a type of slavery in their work.

      And if I’m write, and not to sound egotistical…I know I am, then Benioff and Weiss should not be leading this show. They should give it to black people. I have a serious question about whether those two writers actually trust their co-workers to write sensibly, well, and then listen to them as POC in the writing room. I think not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Did you see the take down of this alt right troll about Roman society? There’s apparently a BBC show about it with black an brown people in positions of power, which is historically accurate, and of course someone had to say something about that, because it is the narrative we’re all spoon fed. A historical scholar came through and set him right.

        Then there’s this other video about how the marble statues are deceptive. The paint wore off them, disguising the true colors, and in some instances, the noses were purposely broken off to hide the fact they weren’t aquiline. It’s just amazing what they’ll do to continue this false narrative. The woman who uncovered it, who was this soft spoken, petite white lady, has been receiving death threats, but she’s a legitimate historian, and isn’t going to back down.

        The only Black history most people learn usually starts with slavery, and god forbid you show an ACCURATE picture of Black Victorian women. We’ve always existed…throughout all ages and through many different cultures. The erasure is real and it continues. Every time they rewrite a story to have a black lead instead of a white one, you’ll always hear the “reverse racism” cries and I want to roll my eyes so hard.

        I don’t think you’re being egotistical. I don’t trust them either. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas, but in my opinion, it is NOT the narrative we need. I’d rather see the “What if colonialism never happened?” “What if slavery never occurred?” But I doubt that would ever become mainstream, because the modern world is built on that horrifying foundation. We wouldn’t be where we are today without it, and that terrifies the people in power.


      2. I’ve seen those videos! I am a bit of a history hobbist and it’s amazing to me how much people want to pretend the whitewashed history they’ve been fed and modern race relations are how the world has always been. Sometimes I just listen to people and read their comments and you’d think black people just popped out the goddamn ground, and that Asian people’s history is contingent on ignoring all the fucked up shit colonial powers did in favor of exotification. To this day people say, and educated liberal people, that there was and is no such thing as African civilization and these fucks are the first to say Egypt was all white as though they knew what they were talking about. It boggles the mind.

        So much of our modern narratives are contingent on this belief that there is no society outside of whiteness unless it’s a society the mainstream wants to treat as exotic. The idea of “What if slavery never occurred” requires a level of empathy, intellect, and perspective that takes, mainly white Americans, so fucking far out of their learned beliefs/habits/and comfort zone that they can’t accept it. Ya know, I will never forget the conversation I had with someone who legitimately said Wakanda was unrealistic, but had no problem with Asgard in the comics (it was before Thor came out). It wasn’t just one person and it wasn’t trolls. These were 100% serious people who thought it impossible that their racist beliefs and imagination could be wrong…because to them black inferiority and the ineferiority of black culture was and is absolute.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Funny that we’re talking about this tonight…when a shit ton of Nazis, fascists, or simply racist fucks marched in Virginia, and one decided to drive his car into a peaceful counter protest and kill one person. They had tiki torches…like, one, thanks for using something from another culture to further your white supremacist bullshit, and two, TIKI TORCHES?? #lolsob but in all seriousness, I read people defending it, because “liberals have pushed anti-white racism” to the extreme.” I wish you could my face…actually, I’m pretty sure we have the same expression right now. The amount of knowledge that needs to be dropped on someone like that is so great, I should be paid a professor’s salary for teaching, but the worst part is when you’re mired in that amount of ignorance, no amount of knowledge no matter how logically presented is going to do a damn bit of good.

        They really don’t realize that in order for black people to exist today, we obviously had to have existed in the past. It’s not that difficult.

        Whiteness is the standard by which everything is measured. People of color who can better or best assimilate to whiteness are better treated and better received even though we still suffer under systematic racism, because there shouldn’t have to be a goddamn performance, but if you’re perceived as “more white” or “more white acting,” (which is bullshit in and of itself), they see you as safe. I know this first hand, because I used to get the Oreo treatment, and when I was young and much less woke, I thought it was a compliment, even though I ALWAYS felt weird about it.

        They can’t conceive a world where slavery never occurred, because the culture we live in right now was built on the foundation of it, and thinking that means acknowledging that their ancestors and therefore they benefit from that system. They’ve also been catered to to the point that when they’re not, they think that something is wrong, because it destroys their consistent status quo. Like a child who’s always had his pick of every single toy who’s then told he has to share.

        And this “protest”, which I struggle to call that. It’s a Klan rally; they’re just no longer hiding beneath hoods, because the current climate has given them the freedom to be blatantly racist without fear of repercussions…this protest and the more that will follow is due to the fear that now people of color are standing up to and fighting back against the oppression we’ve always faced, and they are ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED that if the balance is evened or tipped they’ll be treated like we were. That’s why they’re fighting so hard against it. That’s why they’re using this “anti-white racism” rhetoric, because despite their insistence that “white privilege doesn’t exist” they know, and it scares the shit out of them. They are horrified at not being at the top of the hierarchy anymore, because they think if they aren’t, they same thing that happened to us will happen to them. Now while I am a vengeful bitch, that’s more on a personal level. I have NO interest in seeing other people deal with the oppression that people of color have for, well, ever, because then the pendulum just swings in the opposite direction, but because that’s what they’ve done historically, it’s the only thing they can thing of.

        The idea of black inferiority is so ingrained in this culture, and it’s like how? We freaking made everything like…literally, but that’s how you do it. When you have the power, you can spin the information however you want.


  2. I agree, it was a weird choice for a TV show. It’s funny because my initial knowledge of David Benioff came from trying to read his novel City of Thieves, and I hated it because of how the male characters talked about women. I think Game of Thrones was an improvement in the way he wrote about women, probably because it was based on the books so there were already some interesting female characters he had to work with. I didn’t know about the racial politics, and that the show differed from the book in that way, but yeah, somehow I’m not surprised.
    Get Out sounds like a really cool movie, though.


    1. Get Out is a great horror movie and I reccomend it if you enjoy psychological horror. As to Benioff? I don’t wish him ill in any way, but I just can’t feel there is anything there to make me go “Ok he and all these folks involved can do this”

      Liked by 1 person

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