Afternoon Coffee

More

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of hanging out for a bit in my old digs in Harlem. Consequently, I was treated to one of those rare hood moments when someone drunk stumbles up to you and begins reciting the first chapter of their own Key To All Mythologies. Standing in front of a liquor store on Lennox, waiting for a friend to grab a couple bottles, Jelani Cobb and I were entreated into conversation by a young lady who was lifted into the stratosphere:


Her: Who ya'll basketball team?

Jelani: I don't have one:

Her: Yeah. I'm usually a Celtics fan, but these Celtics been losing. Come on man. Now the Knicks they got this kid and he's handling business! And he's CHINESE! You ever seen that? But I like him cause he's humble. So I'm bout to start rooting for the Knicks.

We neglected to correct the lady on the particulars of Jeremy Lin's identity, but again, it was one of those moments where you see how easily we conflate phenotype with some deeper objective reality. (Sometimes it's not even phenotype. When I was young we all wanted to get that "County Girls" who were effectively what white girls are taken to represent in the broader imagination. All the country girls were black, but they weren't from where we were from so somehow they had to be in possession of magical erotic properties.) 

We've seen black people ball for so long, we start to think black people, somehow, invented the game. Or that the present dominance is reflective of some deeper "racial" truth. I remember the first time I heard Eric Burdon. I considered myself enlightened. But I still couldn't believe that a white dude was blowing like that. It's hard to remember that culture is little more than a learned pattern of behaviors and rituals, and the ability to acquire culture doesn't have much to do with phenotype. There was nothing black about Naismith.

This practice of finding patterns which so often betrays is surely some evolutionary tic. It probably served us out on the Savannah. Anyway, thinking of War yesterday, sent me to Burdon today, as he used to front for the group. They got a lot better after he left. Still Burdon can bring it.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do Men Assume They're So Great?

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of this month's Atlantic cover story, sit down with Hanna Rosin to discuss the power of confidence and how self doubt holds women back. 


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In