Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor 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.
Last night The Atlantic won two awards. The first was for best website. The second was for essays and criticism. The essay in question was written by me. In my mind, these awards are linked. Writing for the website has fundamentally changed how I write in print.
If you crawl back through the archives of early to mid 2012, you will find me writing this story, on this blog, with some assistance from you. (The Trayvon coverage, for instance.) If you crawl even further back to the summer of 2010, you can find me writing this story with some assistance from you. (The Shirley Sherrod coverage, for instance.) And if you crawl back to the archives of 2008, you will see the same thing.
This space is my notebook. But in the borders and outside the margins you can see the added scribblings and post-its authored by The Horde. You can read through the current housing coverage in Chicago and see the same thing happening right now. People often praise this site for its comments community. They speak to me as though I am doing a public service. In fact, my aims are wholly selfish. This is my notebook. The scribblings and post-its have to actually help me.
So I want to thank The Horde. I want to thank The Horde for telling me to read Confederate Emancipation. I want to thank whoever it was that told me to read Making The Second Ghetto. I want to thank all the philosophy-heads who dive into my naive and infrequent discussions of Hobbes. I want to thank everyone of you who endures and corrects mon pauvre français.
Thank you all. For the Horde.
I should be blogging more about the travesty that is Stop and Frisk. I'm sorry about that. In the meantime, here is a quote from Ray Kelly that should shiver any African American in New York:
"It makes no sense to use census data, because half the people you stop would be women," Kelly said. "About 70 percent to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes -- assault, robbery, shootings, grand larceny -- are described as being African American."
"The percentage of people who are stopped is 53 percent African American," he continued. "So really, African Americans are being under stopped in relation to the percentage of people being described as being the perpetrators of violent crime. The stark reality is that crime happens in communities of color."
There's are many problems here. Stop and Frisk isn't simply wrong because of the high number of black people caught its net, it is wrong because of what happens afterward. And while the number of marijuana arrests resulting from Stop and Frisk are appallingly high, the number of actual gun arrests are appallingly low:
Stop-and-frisk has removed thousands of guns from the city's streets -- but the NYPD detained millions of innocent New Yorkers to find them.
A Columbia law professor testified Wednesday that just one gun was recovered for every thousand people stopped from 2004 through June 30, 2012.
"The NYPD hit rate is far less than what you would achieve by chance," Jeffrey Fagan said in Manhattan Federal Court.
Testifying in the federal class-action lawsuit against the city and the NYPD's controversial tactic, Fagan said his analysis of paperwork from 4.4 million stops found guns were confiscated at a rate of roughly one-tenth of 1 percent, or 5,940 firearms.
Knives and other contraband were nabbed in about 1.5% of stops, taking 66,000 weapons off the street, the professor said.
And 12% of the 4.4 million stops during that time period -- roughly 528,000 -- led to an actual arrest or a summons, Fagan said.
Almost 90 percent of African Americans and Latinos stopped and frisked on the street were guilty of no crime at all. Effectively Kelly is saying that innocent black people should simply carry the weight, because a small minority of people who happen to have roughly the same amount of melanin have decided not to. This is precisely what racist policy is -- you create a group and then punish all of them for the sins (sometimes real, sometimes imagined) of a few of them. It is Barbara Fields' Racecraft in action -- the concealing of actual racism beneath a banal heading of race.
One could just as easily say that about 70 percent to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes, could also be described as generational victims of racist policies, like the ones Kelly and Bloomberg are promoting. One could just as easily say the vast majority of violent criminals in New York city hail from neighborhoods that have -- over many generations -- been the victims of a national wealth transfer, the remnants of which are with us even today.
We don't say that. Writers and intellectuals on the Left would much rather talk about class. Same as it ever was. But this isn't going away. We aren't going away.
Don't debate straw men. If you're arguing against an idea, you need to accurately describe the people who hold them. If at all possible, link to them and quote their argument. This is a discipline that forces opinion writers to prove that they're debating an idea somebody actually holds. And quoting the subject forces them to show that somebody influential holds it -- if the best example of the opposing view is a random blog comment, then you're exposing the fact that you're arguing against an idea nobody of any stature shares. This ought to be an easy and universal guideline, but in reality, it's mostly flouted.
I was walking down the street with one of my girlfriends and I saw this young lady who had the most amazing, bomb twist-out. I said to my friend, "Oh my gosh, her hair is so beautiful. I wish my hair could do that." My friend looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Uh, it would if you stop relaxing it." I stopped and thought to myself, wow, duh. I kind of felt dumb because of course I knew my hair was naturally curly, but it had been so long since I had been relaxing. I realized that I had no real relationship with my natural hair. At that very moment, I decided to change that.I wanted to see what my own hair felt like because I really didn't know. I had no clue. In the back of my mind, I always figured I could go back to a relaxer if I didn't like it. I started transitioning for a year and a half using sew-in weaves so my transition was fairly easy. My stylist would trim off the relaxer as time went on and eventually, she cut off the last little bit of straight ends and I was relaxer-free. I finally saw my own hair in its natural state.And then... I cried.I did not know how to deal with this little afro on my head. I called my best friend crying because I did not want to leave the house. She came over and literally sat me down and said, "Teyonah you are beautiful. Your hair is amazing." She is really the main reason why I am natural to this day. Later on, we went out in Harlem and I was trying not to feel so self-conscious. The whole day, people would come up to me and say, "Wow, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." I was totally shocked. The reaction I got from other people was really comforting. I know we shouldn't look for approval from other people, but in all honestly, it really helped me see that it was really my own perception of my hair that was holding me back. That was really eye-opening for sure.
Everyone agrees that sequestration is horrible policy. That was the point. Democrats now agree that poor and working people should bear the full brunt of that policy, while Delta Gold members should bear less of it. This is cruelty, or at least the willingness to abide cruelty. From Ezra Klein:
Recall the Democrats' original theory of the case: Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too.In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it's even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It's worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.
As a CQ / Roll Call reporter tweeted last night, "Make no mistake, this FAA fix is a complete, utter cave by Senate Democrats and, if signed, by the White House." This is a sentiment expressed in other press reports over the last 12 hours, including, Politico: "Democrats blink first on aviation" and Chicago Tribune: "White House Scrambles For Damage Control."Consider that the Democrats opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases. By the first of this week Senator Reid proposed replacing the whole sequester with phony war savings. And by last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted "cut this, not that" approach.
I'm away this week, reporting. For the past few months I've been exploring the wealth gap through New Deal-era policy with a particular focus on housing. I'm in Chicago this week talking to victims of that policy, and attempting to grapple with its broader implications. I'll be out for a few days.
For those keeping count, the current exploration involves the following books:
1.) Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
2.) Tom Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty
3.) Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto
4.) Beryl Satter, Family Properties
5.) Antony Beevor, The Second World War (I didn't feel like I could really understand New Deal policy without understanding World War II)
6.) Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself
7.) Douglass Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid (just started on the plane out here)
For those new to this I would start with Wilkerson's book. And I'd add two more that I read a few years back: Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis, and Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White.
I think what amazes me about all of this is the degree to which we blind ourselves to policy. I remember coming to Chicago in the mid-90s, riding down the Dan Ryan and assuming that the wall of projects (there's no other way to describe them) was somehow "natural." It never occurred to me that segregation -- without "Whites Only" signs -- was actual policy. We are living with the effects of that policy today. And we likely will be for many years.
By this it appears that reason is not, as sense and memory, born with us; nor gotten by experience only, as prudence is; but attained by industry: first in apt imposing of names; and secondly by getting a good and orderly method in proceeding from the elements, which are names, to assertions made by connexion of one of them to another; and so to syllogisms, which are the connexions of one assertion to another, till we come to a knowledge of all the consequences of names appertaining to the subject in hand; and that is it, men call science. And whereas sense and memory are but knowledge of fact, which is a thing past and irrevocable, science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another; by which, out of that we can presently do, we know how to do something else when we will, or the like, another time: because when we see how anything comes about, upon what causes, and by what manner; when the like causes come into our power, we see how to make it produce the like effects.
Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.
To conclude, the light of humane minds is perspicuous words, but by exact definitions first snuffed, and purged from ambiguity; reason is the pace; increase of science, the way; and the benefit of mankind, the end. And, on the contrary, metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end, contention and sedition, or contempt.
...it is practically impossible, without great loss of life, especially at the present time, to prevent lynching of Negro rapists when the crime is committed against the white women of the South."
...strictly a white man's country, with a white man's civilization, and any dream on the part of the Negro Race to share social and political equality will be shattered in the end.
Theodore Bilbo worked to block funding for Howard University, tried to initiate a "Back to Africa" campaign for colonizing black citizens, attempted to segregate the national parks, dismissed multiracial children as "a motley melee of misceginated mongrels," attempted to ban interracial marriage in Washington, D.C., and raged against antilynching legislation that would compel "Southern girls to use the stools and toilets of damn syphilitic women." And he did this as a progressive.You know folks, I run Washington. I'm mayor there...Some niggers came to see me one time in Washington to try to get the right to vote there. The leader was a smart nigger. Of course he was half white. I told him that the nigger would never vote in Washington. Hell, if we give 'em the right to vote up there, half the niggers in the South will move into Washington and we'll have a black Government. No Southerner would sit in Congress under those conditions.
Probably the most bracing aspect of Ira Katznelson's new history of the New Deal, Fear Itself, is his portrait of the marriage of progressive domestic policy and white supremacy. I knew the outlines of this stuff, but for a flaming commie like me, the extent of the embrace is hard to take:
Far more enduring was the New Deal's intimate partnership with those in the South who preached white supremacy. For this whole period -- the last in American history when public racism was legitimate in speech and action -- southern representatives acted not on the fringes but as an indispensable part of the governing political party.
It actually starts much earlier with Woodrow Wilson who forged a "composite of racism and progressive liberalism" which "came to dominate the Democratic Party, and, with it, the content and boundaries of social reform."
The composite endured after Wilson:
During the 1920s, Alabama's Oscar Underwood and Joseph Robinson of Arkansas led the Democratic Party in the House; Senate Democrats were led by Claude Kitchin of North Carolina until 1923, then by Finis Garrett of Tennessee. With no realistic threat to segregation on the horizon, southern members often allied successfully with western Republican progressives led by Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska.The uniting force that makes all of this possible is white supremacy. In the Democratic Party of the early 20th century, everything was negotiable save the advancement of black people. Not even the protection of black people was countenanced. During the same period Southern Democrats were supporting railroad unions, they were actively fighting anti-lynching laws. You could easily bring the women's suffrage movement into this also which, by the 20s, had embraced the spirit of white supremacy. The embrace was likely necessary.
This coalition propelled reform legislation that included the Water Power Act of 1920 and the Merchant Marine Act of the same year, as well as tax laws that maintained the progressive income, inheritance, and excess profits provisions that had been brought in during World War I. It also passed the Maternity and Infancy Welfare Act of 1921, jointly sponsored in the House by the Texas Democrat Morris Sheppard and Iowa Republican Horace Towner, whose pattern of local administration sharply discriminated against black families in the South.
The South's Democrats also supported collective bargaining for unions in the railroad industry, and large-scale power projects, including the epic construction of Boulder Dam, a project that would not be undertaken until 1931.
Their tax policies, in the main, grew more moderate after the 1924 Republican landslide, which weakened that party's progressive wing, but even the more conservative southern Democrats, like Underwood, "sustained much more 'progressive' voting records than their Republican colleagues from New England and the mid-American states" throughout the 1920s.
I don't know where Katznelson is ultimately going, but I think his point is that -- in the end -- it was a lot of this New Deal legislation, however flawed, that helped bring about segregation's end. Unfortunately, the effects of a social safety net engineered for the aid of some and the hindering of others is still with us.
Many prisoners of the Japanese had suffered a particularly gruesome and cruel fate. General MacArthur had given Australian forces the dispiriting task of clearing New Guinea and Borneo of the remaining pockets of Japanese. It became clear from all the reports collected later by U.S. authorities and the Australian War Crimes Section that the 'widespread practice of cannibalism by Japanese soldiers in the Asia-Pacific war was something more than merely random incidents perpetrated by individuals or small groups subject to extreme conditions. The testimonies indicate that cannibalism was a systematic and organized military strategy.The practice of treating prisoners as 'human cattle' had not come about from a collapse of discipline. It was usually directed by officers. Apart from local people, victims of cannibalism included Papuan soldiers, Australians, Americans, and Indian prisoners of war who had refused to join the Indian National Army. At the end of the war, their Japanese captors had kept the Indians alive so that they could butcher them to eat one at a time. Even the inhumanity of the Nazis' Hunger Plan in the east never descended to such levels.Because the subject was so upsetting to families of soldiers who had died in the Pacific War, the Allies suppressed all information on the subject, and cannibalism never featured as a crime at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946.
The mass of incendiaries raining down in a tighter pattern than usual on the eastern side of the city accelerated the conglomeration of individual fires into one gigantic furnace. This created a chimney or volcano of heat which shot into the sky and sucked in hurricane force winds at ground level. This fanned the roaring flames still further. At 17,000 feet, the air-crew could smell roasting flesh.On the ground, the blast of hot air tore off clothes, stripping people naked and setting their hair ablaze. Flesh was desiccated, leaving it like pemmican. As in Wuppertal, tarmac boiled and people became glued to it like insects on a flypaper. Houses would explode into a blaze in a moment. The fire service was rapidly overwhelmed. Those civilians who stayed in cellars suffocated or died from smoke inhalation or carbon-monoxide poisoning.They, according to the Hamburg authorities later, represented between 70 and 80 per cent of the 40,000 people who died. Many of the other bodies were so carbonized that they were never recovered...Harris's attempt to break German morale had failed. Yet he still refused to admit defeat and he certainly refused to recant. He despised government attempts to whitewash the bombing campaign by claiming that the RAF was going only for military targets and that civilian deaths were unavoidable. He simply regarded industrial workers and their housing as legitimate targets in a modern militarized state. He rejected any idea that they should be 'ashamed of area bombing.'
Paul acknowledged criticism for the speech he gave at Howard University Wednesday, saying, "I think some think a white person is not allowed to talk about black history ... which I think is unfair."At Howard, he spoke for about an hour about how, historically, Democrats opposed integration and minority voting rights, while Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln. At Simmons, he talked about how blacks once registered in large numbers as Republicans, how Democrats in Kentucky opposed constitutional amendments that gave African Americans expanded rights and how Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal from its creation in 1868 until 1919, opposed letting black people vote."Much of the public doesn't know that anymore, and part of my reason for bringing it out was that so people know Republicans aren't hostile to civil rights or somehow to African Americans," he said.
Reason has a good video up looking at the cross-section of opinion which followed Rand Paul's visit to Howard University. (With Chad Bozeman out there doing work, it's a good time to be a Bison.) I offered some of my own thoughts on Friday's All In With Chris Hayes. Here are a few more.
1.) I've gone back and forth on this but I think Rand Paul deserves credit. These sorts of speeches are often done by conservatives as a way of signaling to moderate whites that they aren't racist. The Mitt Romney show at the 2012 NAACP convention is the best example.
I think Paul's was different. I can't remember a potential Republican presidential candidate standing before a group of black students like that and actually taking questions. And these were not plants. Paul got the full brunt of a school where black history and politics are the air.
2.) Someone should have told Rand Paul he was going to a school where black history and politics are the air. At a university founded by prominent 19th-century Republicans, where every student is subject to an African-American (studies, lit, history, etc.) requirement, you can not hope to surprise them with "Famous Black Republican Facts." They know this. And anyone so moved to attend a Rand Paul speech at Howard will almost certainly know it better than Rand Paul. (Edward Brooke!)
3.) The lack of someones is particularly telling. It's not so much that Rand Paul is a Republican that matters, its his obvious lack of either good African-American advisers, or advisors who simply cared enough to do some recon. Someone who knew Howard could have told him that he was walking into a lion's den. This is the real and hard value of diversity, an area where, for at least the next decade, Dems will enjoy an advantage. They are better are talking to diverse audiences simply because they've had more practice. This isn't mission impossible. But to be good at talking to black people, you must talk to black people.
4.) This should not be a series of "speeches." Paul should go back to Howard and sit in on a couple of classes. He should just sit there and listen. I know he's a busy guy, but there is so much there that he clearly doesn't know. If he can't do it, he should send someone to do it. Better, he should hire a couple of smart kids out of Howard's poli-sci department who are sympathetic to his politics. (They are there.)
5.) Paul's answer to the Civil Rights Act question was deeply damaging. Nothing he did there hurt him more than outright lying. This is 2013. All these kids need do is google Rand Paul and Civil Rights Act to see what Paul actually said. It would be like Obama announcing his support for marriage equality, by claiming he'd always supported it. The worst part is he didn't even have to lie. A simple "I've learned a few things since becoming a senator" would have sufficed. Unforced error. Again, no one around Paul to say, "It's Howard. A third of SNCC went here. You are going to get this question. You must have a good answer."
6.) If you are a libertarian and dismayed by the largely critical reaction to Paul's speech, you should understand that much of it is because black liberals, like me, actually expect more of Rand Paul than we expected of Mitt Romney. Again, a lot of us have family whose politics are not very different from Rand Paul's. These are people who don't like foreign wars, who don't like our incarceration rates, and don't like our deficit.
These people are not me. But the fact that we end up voting for the same guy is a distortion of democracy. We deserve to fight it out. Having that fight doesn't require the GOP to fully embrace Obamacare. It requires the GOP to stop attempting to limit the number of people who are voting, and start competing for them. At this moment, the GOP has a choice. It can embrace the "Gifts" logic of Mitt Romney which holds that black people will never vote for a Republican, or it can make a pitch and compete.
Rand Paul -- skeptical of foreign war, skeptical of the drug war, skeptical of mass incarceration -- is the most credible Republican to make that pitch. We don't have any expectations for Steve King. Paul is different, and is being judged accordingly. You don't get to do something striking and courageous (like Paul's actual filibuster) and get judged by the standards of cowards.
"I am not a prejudiced person," Gile said Friday. "I have built Habitat homes for colored people." Gile said he also has a close friend whom he regards as a sister who is black. "I don't ever do anything bad and don't know how to do anything bad. People know I am not," he said.In addition to building Habitat homes, Gile has been involved with CAPS, DVACK, the Food Bank, Salvation Army and Salina Rescue Mission, and he helped start Hunger Barrel, Souper Bowl and Project Salina. In 1989, Gile was awarded the JC Penney Golden Rule award for his volunteer work and he was given the Salina Award for Outstanding Citizen in 2009.
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Pardon my French
As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s…