I've been meaning to link to this interview I did with The Days of Yore for awhile now. Without harping, it probably explains why I blanch at criticizing children for wanting to play sports or be rappers. Essentially I was that kid:
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tony Dorsett, the running back for the Dallas Cowboys. That's what I wanted to be.
Did you play a lot of football on your own or was that just sort of a....?
I did, but I didn't play too much on account of not being very good. You know, it was just something we did in the neighborhood, threw the football and ran around a lot, yeah, a lot of fun...
And not only was I that kid, but the roots of my present self are there:
And you listened to a ton of hip-hop.
It was constant, it was the soundtrack of my childhood. It was just everywhere.
So then I wanted to be a rapper, that was next. But much like being a running back, I wasn't very good at it so that was a minor problem with that dream. I wasn't good at that but that led me to poetry and I did poetry for a while. I was a better rapper than I was a running back and I was a better poet than I was a rapper. I wasn't particularly good at any of those things yet.
There was a great degree of failure in my life and I never really... You know, the way I came up, it quickly became clear to me that no person has the right to success. There's no guarantee to success at all; you may get it or you may not. You can like something and you can be bad at it and you can keep doing it or you can be not great at it and you can keep going or you can be mediocre at it and you can keep doing it. You keep doing it because you like it, just because you like it, for you, it's yours, it's private, you own it. Not to please other people, not to impress nobody.
I wasn't really good at school, I wasn't an athlete, I wasn't particularly good with girls, I didn't have any of that. I wasn't a social outcast; I had pretty good social skills and was well-liked among my crowd, so I didn't have the sort of nerd-geek experience. But I did have the experience of not being particularly good at anything measurable as a young child.
And I went through a long period, once I got to writing, of not being very successful but I kept doing it because I liked it.
When I think about my early life I don't really see much difference between myself and other kids--except one thing. I had people around me who. whatever their disappointments in me, really encouraged my interests. My house was pretty tough place. You could get your ass kicked for disrespecting your mother, your teachers or any other adult. Yet there was always hippy-streak to my folks and they tended to be great believers in imagination. So, for instance, I wasn't allowed to have GI Joe's with white faces--this was the era of black Barbie, and black everything. But my Dad never really told me and my brother Malik to put away the Dungeons & Dragons and read some Du Bois. (He was more a Booker T guy, anyway.)
As a child, there is a very narrow range of things from which you can derive enjoyment and build self-esteem. You can get self-esteem from romance, or from athletics or from school--but not much else. I basically failed at all of those things. The things I was good at it tended to be narrow. I was a good reader--but mostly outside of school. I was very good at memorizing Rakim lyrics. That was a good party trick, but it didn't have much broad value.
But my folks were pretty good about building in opportunities for me. I started playing the djembe when I was in tenth or eleventh grade. I loved the djembe. (Dundunba seen here was my favorite) And I loved it even though I sucked at it when I started. The djembe was the first thing I actually took on, and through practice, improved. After that I started shaving goat-skins in my parents basement and putting the heads on drums alone. I had never been good with my hands. But I discovered that with some practice, I could become better. This was a lesson--you didn't actually have to suck at things. An ethic of curiosity married to an ethic of work would be rewarded. My folks had said as much. But what I needed was a field where I could see that to be true.
I got this lesson at a time when I was really doing horribly at school. (I got kicked out of high school right about then.) My parents were about through with me. But here is what they did not do--they did not take my drum. The did not tell me that I would not have a career playing the djembe. In fact my mother actually bought me a second one. (They were not cheap. I think my second one cost around $350.)
I remember one day I wanted to go over to D.C. to drum with some friends. I was trying to get my Dad to give me money to catch the local commuter train over. I think he was annoyed because, as usual, I was screwing up in school. But he gave me the money and said, "I guess there are worst things that you could want to do on a Saturday night." And there really were.
Sometimes the lessons came in more indirect ways. My Dad used to watch football with me. He was from Philly and hated the Cowboys. Then in 1987, Doug Williams took the Redskins on a playoff run and my Dad was like Flavor Flav--"We got a black quarterback, so step back." I remember watching the Super Bowl with him and Williams getting hurt. Jay Schroeder came in. Williams kind of hated Schroeder. And my Dad--again this is the 80s--says, "Doug ain't going let the white boy have it." And Doug didn't. He came back in and bombed the Broncos out the stadium. Even now I can see Williams hitting Ricky Sanders with a bomb and my Pops jumping up yelling, "Go, Dougie go!!"
That was a moment for me. Like a deep moment. My parents came up so hard. My Moms is from the projects. She was raised by my grandmother who cleaned white people's floors and sent three black girls to college. My Dad grew up in abject poverty in Philly. He'd once come home and seen all his belongings sat out on the street. He'd lived on a truck for a week as a child. His father had abused him and his family. He used to cut school to hang out in the libraries in Philadelphia.
I just gave my son a copy of Slaughterhouse Five and watching him go through it, I keep thinking of how our relationship is built on my Dad's time in the library, or my Mom teaching me to read before I went to school. That is wealth. And I think how that social wealth is now compounding with my wife and my son. And then I think of people who didn't have any of that, who were born wan how that debt compounds.
We all aren't going to come into our own in the same way. Everybody isn't going to be ready for college. But one reason I even had the opportunity to reflect on that is because I had great deal of wisdom and social wealth around me. I grew up in West Baltimore. In my heart I wasn't much different than my friends. But I had advantages. I didn't just have a mother and a father, I had two parents who really knew some things, who were, in their own way, wealthy. Because of them I had the opportunity to fail and learn. What I want to say here is everybody won't be so lucky. But what I really want to say is buy my book. (What? Too much??)
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 winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced.
The winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced. Winning first prize, Anuar Patjane Floriuk of Tehuacán, Mexico, will receive an eight-day photo expedition for two to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal for a photograph of divers swimming near a humpback whale off the western coast of Mexico. Here, National Geographic has shared all of this year’s winners, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Captions by the photographers.
What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about “values” and more about Jesus?
Evangelical Christianity has long had a stranglehold on how Americans imagine public faith. Vague invocations of “religion”—whether it’s “religion vs. science” or “religious freedom”—usually really mean “conservative, Protestant, evangelical Christianity,” and this assumption inevitably frames debates about American belief. For the other three-quarters of the population—Catholics, Jews, other Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, secular Americans, Buddhists, Wiccans, etc.—this can be infuriating. For some evangelicals, it’s a sign of success, a linguistic triumph of the culture wars.
But not for Russell Moore. In 2013, the 43-year-old theologian became the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the political nerve center of the Southern Baptist Convention. His predecessor, Richard Land, prayed with George W. Bush, played hardball with Democrats, and helped make evangelicals a quintessentially Republican voting bloc.
Many psychiatrists believe that a new approach to diagnosing and treating depression—linking individual symptoms to their underlying mechanisms—is needed for research to move forward.
In his Aphorisms, Hippocrates defined melancholia, an early understanding of depression, as a state of “fears and despondencies, if they last a long time.” It was caused, he believed, by an excess of bile in the body (the word “melancholia” is ancient Greek for “black bile”).
Ever since then, doctors have struggled to create a more precise and accurate definition of the illness that still isn’t well understood. In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Kurt Schneider argued that depression could be divided into two separate conditions, each requiring a different form of treatment: depression that resulted from changes in mood, which he called “endogenous depression,” and depression resulting from reactions to outside events, or “reactive depression.” His theory was challenged in 1926, when the British psychologist Edward Mapother argued in the British Medical Journal that there was no evidence for two distinct types of depression, and that the apparent differences between depression patients were just differences in the severity of the condition.
Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.
If there’s one thing I learned in graduate school, it’s that the poet Philip Larkin was right. (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they do.”) At the time, I was a new mom with an infant son, and I’d decided to go back to school for a degree in clinical psychology. With baby on the brain and term papers to write, I couldn’t ignore the barrage of research showing how easy it is to screw up your kids. Of course, everyone knows that growing up with “Mommy Dearest” produces a very different child from one raised by, say, a loving PTA president who has milk and homemade cookies waiting after school. But in that space between Joan Crawford and June Cleaver, where most of us fall, it seemed like a lot could go wrong in the kid-raising department.
Paul faced danger, Ani and Ray faced each other, and Frank faced some career decisions.
This is what happens when you devote two-thirds of a season to scene after scene after scene of Frank and Jordan’s Baby Problems, and Frank Shaking Guys Down, and Look How Fucked Up Ray and Ani Are, and Melancholy Singer in the Dive Bar Yet Again—and then you suddenly realize that with only a couple episodes left you haven’t offered even a rudimentary outline of the central plot.
The jobs that are least vulnerable to automation tend to be held by women.
Many economists and technologists believe the world is on the brink of a new industrial revolution, in which advances in the field of artificial intelligence will obsolete human labor at an unforgiving pace. Two Oxford researchers recently analyzed the skills required for more than 700 different occupations to determine how many of them would be susceptible to automation in the near future, and the news was not good: They concluded that machines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.
This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.
What if Joe Biden is going to run for the Democratic nomination after all?
Most Democrats seem ready for Hillary Clinton—or at least appear content with her candidacy. But what about the ones who who were bidin’ for Biden? There are new signs the vice president might consider running for president after all.
Biden has given little indication he was exploring a run: There’s no super PAC, no cultivation of a network of fundraisers or grassroots organizers, few visits to early-primary states. While his boss hasn’t endorsed Clinton—and says he won’t endorse in the primary—many members of the Obama administration have gone to work for Clinton, including some close to Biden.
But Biden also hasn’t given any clear indication that he isn’t running, and a column by Maureen Dowd in Saturday’s New York Times has set off new speculation. One reason Biden didn’t get into the race was that his son Beau was dying of cancer, and the vice president was focused on being with his son. But before he died in May, Dowd reported, Beau Biden tried to get his father to promise to run. Now Joe Biden is considering the idea.
Exceptional nonfiction stories from 2014 that are still worth encountering today
Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best ofJournalism, an email newsletter that I send out once or twice a week. This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.
An activist group is trying to discredit Planned Parenthood with covertly recorded videos even as contraception advocates are touting a method that sharply reduces unwanted pregnancies.
Abortion is back at the fore of U.S. politics due to an activist group’s attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood, one of the most polarizing organizations in the country. Supporters laud its substantial efforts to provide healthcare for women and children. For critics, nothing that the organization does excuses its role in performing millions of abortions––a procedure that they regard as literal murder––and its monstrous character is only confirmed, in their view, by covertly recorded video footage of staffers cavalierly discussing what to do with fetal body parts.
If nothing else, that recently released footage has galvanized Americans who oppose abortion, media outlets that share their views, and politicians who seek their votes. “Defunding Planned Parenthood is now a centerpiece of the Republican agenda going into the summer congressional recess,” TheWashington Postreports, “and some hard-liners have said they are willing to force a government shutdown in October if federal support to the group is not curtailed.”
It’s impossible to “solve” the Iranian nuclear threat. This agreement is the next best thing.
Having carefully reviewed the lengthy and complex agreement negotiated by the United States and its international partners with Iran, I have reached the following conclusion: If I were a member of Congress, I would vote yes on the deal. Here are nine reasons why.
1. No one has identified a better feasible alternative. Before negotiations halted its nuclear advance, Iran had marched relentlessly down the field from 10 years away from a bomb to two months from that goal line. In response, the United States and its partners imposed a series of sanctions that have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy, driving it to negotiate. That strategy worked, and resulted in a deal. In the absence of this agreement, the most likely outcome would be that the parties resume doing what they were doing before the freeze began: Iran installing more centrifuges, accumulating a larger stockpile of bomb-usable material, shrinking the time required to build a bomb; the U.S. resuming an effort to impose more severe sanctions on Iran. Alternatively, Israel or the United States could conduct military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, setting back the Iranian program by two years, or perhaps even three. But that option risks wider war in the Middle East, an Iran even more determined to acquire a bomb, and the collapse of consensus among American allies.