The new New Republic is out, and among the interesting things about it is a longish essay examination of its tangled racial history. Now, what would have caused this unusual bit of self-examination? Of course, past is prologue–even recent past: Last year, The New Republic celebrated its 100th anniversary, and things from there got a bit crazy. There was a mass staff exodus. There was vocal disagreement with TNR‘s new publisher Chris Hughes’s idea of creating a TNR “brand” and “vertical digital” company (or something like that)–destined to make the generally unprofitable arena of opinion journalism more profitable. So the natural response was nostalgia about the old days of solid, serious, and rigorous journalism from TNR. Then came some blow-back, beginning and ending with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who noted that TNR in its 100th anniversary collection of essays, “Insurrections of the Mind,” had only one black writer and two “writers of color.” Furthermore, writes Coates, “That explains why the family rows at TNR’s virtual funeral look like the “Whites Only” section of a Jim Crow-era movie-house.” But more damning: “It published stories confirming white people’s instincts.” Scratch that. This is more damning: “TNR’s much celebrated ‘heterodoxy’ was built on a strain of erudite neo-Dixiecratism.”
Obviously, someone was reading Coates’s powerful condemnation. Here’s how TNR‘s newest cover piece begins: “Legacies are never simple; they create victims as well as beneficiaries…The phrase ‘legacy of racism’ encapsulates in a few words a large reality: bigotries can have complex, ongoing ramifications. Few, if any, longstanding institutions have been historically free of racism. Given the pervasiveness of racism in the past, the struggle to understand this legacy and figure out how to overcome it remains a political and institutional imperative.” There commences a searching, ponderous, interesting examination of a knotty hypocrisy and negligence in one of modern liberalism’s temples. Perhaps the new New Republic will be alright.