The Victimhood of Black Millionaires

What do you do when you aren’t a victim anymore?

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.

Fresh from the success of Between the World and Me, professional literary victim Ta-Nehisi Coates snapped up a luxurious landmarked brownstone for $2.1 million. The brownstone featured original Tiger Oak, Maple, and Mahogany wood floors, a chef’s kitchen, wedding cake moldings, a tin ceiling, terrace, garden, carved woodwork, a fireplace and all the other expected trimmings of the downtrodden.

When the purchase was exposed and Coates was mocked on Twitter for his gentrifying ways, he posted a whiny self-pitying screed claiming that he could no longer live there because “you can’t really be a black writer in this country, take certain positions, and not think about your personal safety.”

Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is still a majority black area. Whatever risks to his personal safety Coates might have faced in his $2 million brownstone would have come from nearby gangbangers, not stealthy white ninja assassins out to hunt down black writers who “take certain positions.” The last recorded crime as of this writing involved an armed robbery with a “black male” fleeing the scene.   

Ta-Nehisi Coates is the guru of black fragility. Between the World and Me is a gushing stream of hatred and self-pity in which the National Book Award winner and MacArthur genius grant recipient moaned that the firefighters and police officers who died on September 11 “were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.”

Neurotic black fragility justifies dehumanizing white people. White people are just evil forces of nature who might at any moment shatter Coates’ body, even while they’re dying trying to rescue people of all races from the World Trade Center, or impinge on his $2.1 million brownstone hideaway. Occasionally, in their inscrutable way, they might bestow a genius grant or a book award on him. But that’s just another example of how they exploit “black bodies” by financing their brownstone purchases.

This is a good season for the prophets and profits of victimhood. Black fragility is especially very profitable. The Civil Rights movement began with the assertion of moral strength and then eventually physical strength. The current crybullying claims only weakness. It’s a civil rights movement of fragile crybullying nerds who whine even while they’re winning.

The Mizzou protests were kicked off by Jonathan Butler, the son of a millionaire, who went on a hunger strike based on utter ridiculous nonsense. Butler insisted to the media that he was a “dead man walking”. Then the football team joined the protest to see “what can we do to make sure that Jonathan Butler eats.” That was last year. He’s still walking and whining. Also he’s available for “speaking engagements, personal appearances and corporate events”. Possibly also wedding and bar mitzvahs.

Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Butler’s calling card is his fragility. Coates fantasizes about attacks on “black bodies”. Butler made a fetish of his supposed hunger strike. Both men are whiny millionaires whose victimhood was manufactured out of whole cashmere and has proven to be enormously profitable.

Their victimhood is a voluntary fantasy that they choose to engage in. It’s a performance

Why does a segment of a rising black elite feel the need to engage in these neurotic theatrics? Obviously it works. Nobody would be handing Coates a MacArthur fellowship for his comic book reviews. And Butler wouldn’t have become a national figure for his halting knowledge of Korean. Coates and Butler are pandering to a white liberal elite that can only appreciate black people as victims. 

The ultimate model of black fragility was Barack Obama who transformed from post-racial president to perpetual victim. Between the World and Me imitates Obama’s self-dramatizing angst, his cynical secularization of religious language for political purposes and his obsession with being his own narrator. Coates was mining a rich vein that had made Obama into the most powerful man on the planet.  

That vein leads into the insecurity of a rising black upper and middle class. It plays out comically on TV shows like Black-ish and in movies like Keanu where members of the black middle class find themselves between worlds. But that insecurity clings tightly to fantasies of victimhood in a search for authenticity.

Black popular identity in America has pulled away from the inner city blight, which still remains a reality for millions, and has instead projected its insecurity as fragility. The spectrum ranges from Kanye West, taking that self-dramatizing insecurity to extremes that are both comical and ugly, to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who displays equal amounts of narcissism, but leavens it with slightly more self-awareness, to Barack Obama, who is even better at using the appearance of self-awareness to cloak his narcissistic victimhood. The common denominator is a nerdy black nationalism and its manipulative victimhood.

#BlackLivesMatter, the ultimate in neurotic victimhood, didn’t come out of the ghetto. It was founded by professional activists with degrees in anthropology, sociology, religion, philosophy and history. The inevitable next step came with protests on college campuses by bored rich kids looking for a cause. Except the bored rich kids aren’t white anymore even if they’re still every little bit as annoying. 

When his brownstone buy was exposed, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ typically neurotic response was to attribute his discomfort to being a threatened “black writer”. But the Klan doesn’t operate in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Had Coates moved there, he would have been represented by Senator Eric Adams, formerly a racial agitator with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, who became successful enough to be denounced by black anti-gentrification activists as “the biggest Uncle Tom in Brooklyn.” There was no word on what spot on the Uncle Tom list Coates would have won for moving into a gentrified $2.1 million brownstone.

Maybe Ta-Nehisi Coates could have gone all the way up to the second biggest Uncle Tom in Brooklyn.

It was easier for Coates to play the victim of a white phantom menace than deal with the discomfort and insecurity of being black and rich while living near black people who aren’t and are angry about it.

For some members of a rising black elite, white people can be the whipping boys who mitigate their guilt over their success and their sense of inauthenticity. The obsession with microaggressions and white privilege among successful minorities is a comforting reassertion of victimhood without any of its negatives. It’s oppression without the actual oppression. A theatrical martyrdom that resolves internal contradictions and opens countless political and financial doors. Black fragility is the real black privilege.

What do you do when you aren’t a victim anymore? You can move on and take ownership of your choices. Or you can manufacture byzantine racial theories and pretexts to cling to a familiar role.

Barack Obama had convinced Americans that he was ready to be the post-racial president they needed only to revert right back to the Victim-in-Chief. Men like Coates and Butler have no interest in even trying to be anything else. They replay the civil rights movement as farce. While the black middle class struggles with its identity, they pander to insecure white liberals who are not ready to see black people as equals and to that slice of the black middle class that wants the economic privileges of equality without ever taking on any of the responsibility. They want the terrace and the garden, the chef’s kitchen and wedding cake moldings, but they also want to blame white people for everything.