Soooooo, NYT bestselling author of You Never Forget You First (a biography of George Washington), Alexis Coe, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post. A few concerned readers, myself included, took issue with how it was written. The point of her article was that all problematic and offensive statues in this country should come down (including those of Washington), and that this shouldn’t even be up for debate anymore. That’s all true, and no one disagreed with her there.
We DID take issue with the tone of the article- she lists seven of Washington’s accomplishments (she calls them facts, a clever exercise in semantics), and then tacked on at the end “oh right- he also maybe helped create the Fugitive Slave Act mumblegrumble.” Probably not a direct quote, but that was the effect.
While unintentional, this skewed list sounded pretty reverential of Washington. This is in direct odds with her book, which is decidedly not reverential. That’s kind of Coe’s main selling point for her biography. In fact, the book spends some time rebuking Washington’s freeing-but-not-REALLY-freeing of his enslaved people. In the op-ed, his decision to “pave the road to freedom, in his will, for the people he enslaved” earns a gold star, or that’s how it sounds (intent vs. impact.) I’m sorry, but paving a road to anything isn’t the same as doing the damn thing. Those men and women were still enslaved until his precious wife was done with them- a fact that I learned in Coe’s book! What irony!
Anyway. There were a couple of commenters that called her out on this, including people of color. She didn’t want to listen, and in classic avoidant behavior, at a certain point (when no one was capitulating to her) she simply refused to engage. In a time where our job as white people is to shut up and listen to POC, she preferred to defend her intentions to the end, instead of considering the impact of her words. There’s a term for that kind of behavior that escapes me at the moment….
So, you can visit her Instagram page (@alexis_coe) and read the article and some of the comments. You won’t be able to see mine, however, because she deleted everything I wrote (and a comment from one other) and blocked me.
Viking Books has a real class act on their hands there.