My Dad always worked. He worked at his job at Howard. Worked when he got home. Worked on weekends and birthdays. Reveled blasphemous in the Lord's Season. When I think of him, work is the first image in my mind. I see him unloading boxes of books. Mashing saddle-stiched staplers. Frying fish. Mixing cornbread from scratch. Whacking kids; Quashing our young brief rebellions.
We were enrolled into his life. And though he would surely deny it, we worked. Hauling books. Counting inventory. Packing and shipping. Hustling our wares at Art-Scape. Pitching the press at African Liberation Day. Remanded to Ayi Kwei Armah. Dommed to Ishmael Reed. Dad would sit in an easy-chair, with reading glasses low, and lecture from Up From Slavery. He had been a late 60s radical. But at his heart he was a puritan conservative dispensing a strange gospel rooted in the acquiring of knowledge, the inevitibaility of violence, and everywhere, the work.
He had labored from the start. Sweeping floors. Delivering groceries. Grasping at whatever his chid-hands could handle. His money went to his mother saddled with three kids, alcoholism. Down on relief. He devoured books even then. He would cut class for libraries and museums. He would walk downtown, running his hand along large buildings, feeling the unrelenting textures, dreaming of something, somewhere, larger than the poverty and despair of Old Philly.
How he came to love French, I do not know. I have asked him, but he can't remember. He's always loved movies, so perhaps a few spare words from the moving pictures. At all events, the salient fact is this--one season he saved his change and sent off for series of records that promised, by sheer listening and repetition, to imbue him with this beautiful language of waves and undulation. He remembers laying on his bed playing the record over and over, repeating the words, summoning France through incantations of greeting and conjugation.
He was, like me, like nearly every Coates boy, a poor student. It is a curse with us. A thing embedded deep in the strands and nucluei. Someday a great scientist shall stick us in a big machine. Electrodes will crown our heads. On a large screen, a teacher puts chalk to blackboard. The scientist grows wide-eyed. Data spits across the scene showing our neurons not so much firing, as stretching back to yawn.
Left alone, my Dad played that record like it was music. Because it was music. This word Bonsoir is its own magic. It is beautiful coming off your tongue. Your mouth make it's own happy ending. Your lips draw in for a kiss. And this magic is regardless of literal meaning. It is held in the very form.
Dad never made it to fluency. But I've thought about him throughout my own experience. And I've thought about ancestry, itself. To be black is to be able to reach back and touch people whose lives were, by law, foreclosed of certain possibility. No one cared about your intelligence, or curiosity. You were assigned to a certain lane, and there you stayed less you tempt all the violence the state brought to bear.
I understood education as a means of warding off death. You went to school to not go to prison. To not get shot. To not be, as my mother called them, an "If I had my gun" nigger standing on the corner. This is a product of the actual environment. In so many neighborhoods education must be about saving lives. But if you are ranger, this is slavery. Wonder took my father to French. And wonder to my father Nam. And wonder took my father to the Panthers. And wonder took him to my mother. And wonder carries me now to you. To see wonder daily reduced to plastic is another kind of death.
I write to you early this Tuesday morning, Brel in the background, from a street that is far from the streets, as a boy, I once knew. Those of us who are rangers have seen so much more than our fathers. But they walk with us. I imagine my father in the evening, sprawled across his bed, a child again. Record on. Lights off. Music forking down through darkness. Striking green imagination. Catching fire.
*The artist is Jean Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. The piece is Boy With A Top. More info here.
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 Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
The paper of record’s inaccurate reporting on a nonexistent criminal investigation was a failure that should entail more serious consequences.
I have read The New York Times since I was a teenager as the newspaper to be trusted, the paper of record, the definitive account. But the huge embarrassment over the story claiming a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton for her emails—leading the webpage, prominent on the front page, before being corrected in the usual, cringeworthy fashion of journalists who stonewall any alleged errors and then downplay the real ones—is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility. And the paper’s response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable.
This is not some minor mistake. Stories, once published, take on a life of their own. If they reinforce existing views or stereotypes, they fit perfectly into Mark Twain’s observation, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (Or perhaps Twain never said it, in which case the ubiquity of that attribution serves to validate the point.) And a distorted and inaccurate story about a prominent political figure running for president is especially damaging and unconscionable.
A newly discovered artifact buried with one of Jamestown’s most prominent leaders suggests he could have been a crypto-Catholic.
After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.
“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”
Has the Obama administration’s pursuit of new beginnings blinded it to enduring enmities?
“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” In this way Ben Rhodes of the White House, who over the years has broken new ground in the grandiosity of presidential apologetics, described the courage of Barack Obama in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the Iran deal. Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.
The agreement doesn’t guarantee that Tehran will never produce nuclear weapons—because no agreement could do so.
A week ago I volunteered my way into an Atlantic debate on the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement. The long version of the post is here; the summary is that the administration has both specific facts and longer-term historic patterns on its side in recommending the deal.
On the factual front, I argued that opponents had not then (and have not now) met President Obama’s challenge to propose a better real-world alternative to the negotiated terms. Better means one that would make it less attractive for Iran to pursue a bomb, over a longer period of time. Real world means not the standard “Obama should have been tougher” carping but a specific demand that the other countries on “our” side, notably including Russia and China, would have joined in insisting on, and that the Iranians would have accepted.
The new version of Apple’s signature media software is a mess. What are people with large MP3 libraries to do?
When the developer Erik Kemp designed the first metadata system for MP3s in 1996, he provided only three options for attaching text to the music. Every audio file could be labeled with only an artist, song name, and album title.
Kemp’s system has since been augmented and improved upon, but never replaced. Which makes sense: Like the web itself, his schema was shipped, good enough,and an improvement on the vacuum which preceded it. Those three big tags, as they’re called, work well with pop and rock written between 1960 and 1995. This didn’t prevent rampant mislabeling in the early days of the web, though, as anyone who remembers Napster can tell you. His system stumbles even more, though, when it needs to capture hip hop’s tradition of guest MCs or jazz’s vibrant culture of studio musicianship.
Orr: “Sometimes a thing happens. Splits your life. There’s a before and after. I got like five of them at this point.”
This was Frank offering a pep talk to the son of his murdered former henchman Stan in tonight’s episode. (More on this in a moment.) But it’s also a line that captures this season of True Detective so perfectly that it almost seems like a form of subliminal self-critique.
Remember when Ray got shot in episode two and appeared to be dead but came back with a renewed sense of purpose and stopped drinking. No? That’s okay. Neither does the show: It was essentially forgotten after the subsequent episode. Remember when half a dozen (or more) Vinci cops were killed in a bloody shootout along with dozen(s?) of civilians? No? Fine: True Detective’s left that behind, too. Unless I missed it, there was not a single mention of this nationally historic bloodbath tonight.
U.S. officials are turning to Russia for help with Iran and Syria, even as the Ukrainian conflict persists.
If you believe all the talk out there lately, Vladimir Putin is not only duplicitous and hypocritical—the Russian president’s also been pretty damn busy recently. Busy cutting secret deals with the same Europeans and Americans he has been vilifying for years. And if you believe the rumors, the Europeans and Americans have also been busy selling out Ukraine to the Russians.
Not that any of this would be unusual or particularly surprising. Cynicism, duplicity, and hypocrisy are often the reserve currencies of politics, where interests tend to trump values.
There have long been suspicions that the United States and Europe might give Ukraine up in exchange for Russia’s support in securing a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, Washington has been seeking Moscow’s backing in securing a managed, orderly, and negotiated exit for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, which would go a long way toward ending the conflict in that country.
Even with the overwhelming recent New York cover story, the women pay a price for speaking out.
Who still defends Bill Cosby? After newly unsealed depositions revealed that the comedian admitted to acquiring sedatives to give to women he wanted to have sex with, his longstanding backer Whoopi Goldberg recanted her support for the man accused of dozens of rapes over the years. The singer Jill Scott, too, said she was wrong when she suspected a media conspiracy against him. And if Cosby’s former costars, including Phylicia Rashad, still believe him to be the target of an illegitimate smear campaign, they haven’t spoken up to say so in a while. Cosby’s lawyer is currently making the rounds in the media to say his deposition has been misconstrued—but that argument, even if believed, doesn’t refute the idea that he used drugs to take advantage of women.
Educators seldom have enough time to do their business. What’s that doing to the state of learning?
It’s common knowledge that teachers today are stressed, that they feel underappreciated and disrespected, and disillusioned. It’s no wonder they’re ditching the classroom at such high rates—to the point where states from Indiana to Arizona to Kansas are dealing with teacher shortages. Meanwhile, the number of American students who go into teaching is steadily dropping.
A recent survey conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association asked educators about the quality of their worklife, and it got some pretty harrowing feedback. Just 15 percent of the 30,000 respondents, for example, strongly agreed that they’re enthusiastic about the profession. Compare that to the roughly 90 percent percent who strongly agreed that they were enthusiastic about it when they started their career, and it’s clear that something has changed about schools that’s pushing them away. Roughly three in four respondents said they “often” feel stressed by their jobs.