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.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
After calling his intellectual opponents treasonous, and allegedly exaggerating his credentials, a controversial law professor resigns from the United States Military Academy.
On Monday, West Point law professor William C. Bradford resigned after The Guardianreported that he had allegedly inflated his academic credentials. Bradford made headlines last week, when the editors of the National Security Law Journaldenounced a controversial article by him in their own summer issue:
As the incoming Editorial Board, we want to address concerns regarding Mr. Bradford’s contention that some scholars in legal academia could be considered as constituting a fifth column in the war against terror; his interpretation is that those scholars could be targeted as unlawful combatants. The substance of Mr. Bradford’s article cannot fairly be considered apart from the egregious breach of professional decorum that it exhibits. We cannot “unpublish” it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
In renaming a peak that honored a Republican hero, President Obama stepped into the center of a fray over political correctness, American culture, and partisanship.
There are many disorienting things about traveling to Alaska in the summer; the long daylight hours are only the most obvious. But during a vacation to the land of the midnight sun, I also found myself perplexed: Why did people keep pointing at Mount McKinley and calling it “Denali”? Wasn’t that just the name of the national park where it was located?
As of today, the name of the mountain and of the park will be the same. For all the ruckus aroused by President Obama’s decision to rename the nation’s tallest peak, the name change may mean the least for Alaskans, the people who most frequently discuss it. The greatest outcry against the name change, as my colleague Krishandev Calamur notes, is coming from two groups: Ohioans and Republicans, William McKinley’s two leading constituencies. Ohio Republicans, members of both groups, are particularly apoplectic. Here’s Speaker John Boehner:
The tennis player is arguably the era’s greatest athlete, but she has fewer endorsements than other less-successful players.
The U.S. Open begins today (August 31), and Serena Williams has a chance to make tennis history. A win would put her at 22 career Grand Slam titles, tying Steffi Graf for second most, behind only Margaret Court. Her astonishing ability prompts arguments that she’s the sport’s greatest female player of all time, and currently the most dominant U.S. athlete in any sex or sport. Katrina Adams, the president of the U.S. Tennis Association, recently posited that Williams is the greatest athlete ever—period.
Many educators are introducing meditation into the classroom as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation.
A five-minute walk from the rickety, raised track that carries the 5 train through the Bronx, the English teacher Argos Gonzalez balanced a rounded metal bowl on an outstretched palm. His class—a mix of black and Hispanic students in their late teens, most of whom live in one of the poorest districts in New York City—by now were used to the sight of this unusual object: a Tibetan meditation bell.
“Today we’re going to talk about mindfulness of emotion,” Gonzalez said with a hint of a Venezuelan accent. “You guys remember what mindfulness is?” Met with quiet stares, Gonzalez gestured to one of the posters pasted at the back of the classroom, where the students a few weeks earlier had brainstormed terms describing the meaning of “mindfulness.” There were some tentative mumblings: “being focused,” “being aware of our surroundings.”
Can the sleek F-35 match the rugged dependability of the aging A-10? The Pentagon plans to find out.
If you’re the Pentagon, how do you choose between an aging, but dependable, fighter jet and a brand new aircraft that you’re not quite sure is up to the job? You have them fight it out, naturally.
That’s essentially what the Air Force said it would do when it announced that starting in 2018, it would pit the A-10 “Warthog” against the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a series of tests to see if the new F-35s can adequately replace the A-10s, which the military wants to retire. A 40-year-old platform, the A-10 has been described by Martin Dempsey, the joint chiefs chairman, as “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet.” It may be old, but as a certain Irish actor would say, it has a very particular set of skills: The A-10 excels at providing what’s known as “close-air support,” flying low and slow to provide ideal cover protection for U.S. troops fighting in ground combat. That capability is prized not only by the military, but also by a pair of key Republican lawmakers who oversee its budget, Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte.
Residents of Newtok, Alaska, voted to relocate as erosion destroyed their land. That was the easy part.
NEWTOK, Alaska—Two decades ago, the people of this tiny village came to terms with what had become increasingly obvious: They could no longer fight back the rising waters.
Their homes perched on a low-lying, treeless tuft of land between two rivers on Alaska’s west coast, residents saw the water creeping closer every year, gobbling up fields where they used to pick berries and hunt moose. Paul and Teresa Charles watched from their blue home on stilts on Newtok’s southern side as the Ninglick River inched closer and closer, bringing with it the salt waters of the Bering Sea.
“Sometimes, we lose 100 feet a year,” Paul Charles told me, over a bowl of moose soup.
Many communities across the world are trying to stay put as the climate changes, installing expensive levees and dikes and pumps, but not Newtok, a settlement of about 350 members of the Yupik people. In 1996, the village decided that fighting Mother Nature was fruitless, and they voted to move to a new piece of land nine miles away, elevated on bedrock.