Ta-Nehisi Coates

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.

  • Things I Meant To Post Last Week

    This is a pretty interesting piece by John McWhorter comparing how Obama and Steele use the cadence and jargon of black English. Shockingly, I have only one minor quibble:

    The black English cadence is an accent (just as the mainstream English cadence is). Yet Obama did not grow up with it. At 16 and 17 he was in Hawaii; before that he had been in Indonesia. Surely he didn't pick up the cadences of Oakland in either locale. (Maybe today, with the reign of hiphop, he might have, since "Ebonics" is increasingly a youth "dialecta franca." But in the mid-70s hiphop's worldwide breakout was years away.) 

    Obama himself does not describe "learning to speak like a black American"--it was likely an unconscious process, part of coming to feel part of the culture in his late twenties as he settled in Chicago. Thus there is no claim here that Obama is a phony: people generally do not take on accents deliberately. Many of us have friends who moved to England as adults and have lived there for several years. They wind up with halfway English accents--but not on purpose.

    McWhorter goes on to call Obama a "gifted mimic." I'm not convinced that Obama wasn't exposed to black English until he got to Chicago. It's true that there aren't a lot of blacks in Hawaii, at Occidental or Harvard. But we shouldn't confuse a minority black environment with one where there are no blacks.

    Many of my current friends are black people who grew up in lily white neighborhoods--but that doesn't mean they didn't have any contact with black culture. My B-More brogue may be a little thick, but on the basics of Ebonics, I've got nothing on them. Moreover (if I'm remembering right)  Obama actually describes, in his memoir, going to black parties, as well as his black friends in Hawaii. Also, again if I'm remembering right, his mother made an effort to expose him to black culture. 

    Maybe, I've got this wrong. I'm betting that I've got more than a few readers who grew up like Obama who can weigh in.

  • In The Ensuing Melee...

    Someone mentioned Okkerville River in the hip-hop thread. That's all I need to link to my favorite cut on the new album--"Lost Coastlines." Only "On Tour With Zykos" comes close. Nice to see a brother in the video giving dap.

    Man, this is a long way from "Verbal Intercourse." This may not be your speed, feel free to talk up whatever you're digging these days.


  • Michael Steele Threatens To Quit

    Republicans rejoice. Liberal bloggers mourn. In all seriousness, I doubt it'll come to this. It's a bizarre trap, they've got themselves in. I respect the move toward diversity, and I don't think the impulse should be discounted. But the problem is, given their past baggage, they can't really dump the guy. If they did, I'd be shocked if Steele didn't--I can't believe I'm saying this--play the race card.

  • The Atlantic Debates Hip-Hop

    No, I can't believe I wrote that headline either. Still, this dialogue between Alyssa Rosenberg, Gautham Nagesh and Hua Hsu fits perfectly into our discussion yesterday. I considered jumping in myself, but thought better of it--the only hip-hop I'm listening to these days is Doom and the occasional Ghost. I'm basically done with the music for reasons I haven't yet figured out. And if you're done, you kind of give up all right to make big pronouncements about its future. Still, this line from Alyssa made the old man in me proud:

    Jay-Z's still rapping, but hearing him rhyme "My president is black / My Maybach, too / And I'll be goddamned if my diamonds ain't blue" on his cover of a Young Jeezy track celebrating Obama's inauguration in the middle of an economic downturn just depressed me.

    I actually love that line, but I take the point.

  • No One Left To Take Shots At

    I think Hitchens attacks on Wanda Sykes say a lot about his deterioration as a writer, and a thinker. In one instance he calls her a "black dyke." In another he calls her a "sable sapphist."

    Writing is really hard work--mostly because thinking is really hard work. When you don't want to do that work, but you want the meager payment it offers, the fleeting fame it brings, than you resort to thinking on the cheap. You go for shock. And you do it that way because you have nothing to offer except your rep as contrarian, and a provocateur. You do it because you are lazy.

    To call his statements racist, or homophobic, demeans racist and homophobes. Indeed  Hitchens displays something more than that--weakness. Weakness is the root of these sorts of slurs--an unwillingness to do the hard work of taking your opponents at their merits. So you name call and strawman. You mock what you don't understand, what you fear.

    Adam has a nice take-down, in which he notes that Hitchens doesn't even get the humor he's objecting to. I wrote a post doing the same, and then thought better of it. Life is short. Enough letters today on who's wrong on the internet.

  • The Next WoW

    So much for World of Starcraft. Whatever they do, it's going to have to have a serious PvP system to make me wander over. WoW may be it for the kid. It's going to take something compelling to get me to play another MMO.

  • The New Shady Joint

    I can't even lie and claim that I'm going to cop it. I'm just too old to be amazed by the schitck. Now that's not correct--ever was never amazed by shock-rap, but I endured it if you had the mic skills and the beats. But these days, I can't even take Straight Outta Compton--except "Parental Discretion" and "If It Ain't Ruff" which is still amazing ("Ice Cube is equipped to rip shit in a battle\Move like a snake when I'm mad and then my tale rattle...")

    That said, I always appreciate a fine piece of writing and this piece over at Pitchfork was pretty good:

    Star Trek isn't the only franchise reboot expected to do big numbers this summer-- instead of the 13-year-old who got into The Slim Shady LP and found that underground shit he did with Scam, Relapse is for that guy's little brother who's 13-years old right now, and Eminem is fully committed to upping the ante for today's desensitized sensibilities. Do a double-take when he rapped "I just found out my mom does more dope than I do"? This time, you get to untangle the knotty word thickets of "My Mom", wherein young Marshall gets bullied and tricked by you-know-who into an addiction to prescription pills. Recoil when he threatened to push a fat girl off the high dive in swim class? He's now murdering his cousin in a tub and drinking the bathwater. Cringe at Eminem advocating roofies at a kegger? Get ready for the term "felching" to enter the public consciousness as Eminem gets anally raped by his stepfather in a tool shed. Got all that? Congrats, you're now four songs into Relapse.


    As much as I loved music, I always found telling someone how something sounded really hard, and thus music criticism really tough. Still, this is a nice contribution to the genre.

    One question I have for the assembled. Does Em have a truly classic album? He's a great rapper, no doubt. But does he have an It Takes A Nation, an Illmatic, an Aquemini or a Death Certificate?

  • Live From Ward 8

    Always nice to get some reporting from the ground. Adam, tempers some of my enthusiasm for my old home, and notes that this weekend's victory probably has a lot more to do with strategy than with war against homophobia:

    I would say that it's very early to draw too many conclusions from the results in Ward 8. The marriage equality resolution passed in large part because the people who really cared about the issue showed up, and those people were in favor. Thirty-two people can hardly be seen as an accurate representation of views in Ward 8, which has a population of 70,000 people. Polling suggests that in a citywide referendum, supporters of marriage equality would be facing an uphill battle, which is precisely why opponents support a referendum and gay-rights advocates oppose one.

    At the same time, I think polling on the subject has largely overstated the intensity of black opposition to marriage equality in D.C: My theory is that if gay marriage was legalized, no one would care. But if it were put to a vote, the result would be very close. That's because while black people tend to be more opposed to gay marriage, it's not an identity-defining issue in the same way it is for white folks in the religious right. The memory of institutionalized oppression creates doubt where in others there might be religious certainty.

    I think black voters, particularly in D.C., are malleable on this issue. (We did, after all, have domestic partnership laws "before it was cool"). The line that got the most applause during the entire meeting was the Rev. Wiley's declaration that "we would be in serious trouble if, as slaves, our freedom was put to a referendum." But that's just what might happen, and if gay-rights activists drop the ball in reaching out to the black community like they did in California, they'll lose.

    I think this pretty much on the money. It's a winnable fight. And a lose-able one. That said, I'd be shocked if this came up for referendum. Although part of me almost wishes that it would. I really believe we could win it.

    Look at me, talking that we shit. I mean, I like boobs as much as the next guy, so take this with a grain of salt...

  • How We Talk About Abortion

    Our debate yesterday over how pro-choicers talked reminded me of this Fresh Air piece an Ayelet Waldman. From my perspective, whatever the moral problems presented abortion itself, the specter of a ban instituted and enforced by the State, present many more.  But then there's another debate, which we hinted at yesterday--how we talk about abortion. My own pro-choiceness doesn't really procede from the question of whether a zygote is a life, as much as it does from a rejection of utopianism. Still, I was struck by how Waldman talked about her abortion. I don't think it much helps to render a moral judgement here--at least I didn't find it helpful. That said, I think the difference in how Waldman thinks about abortion, and how her mother thought about it are arresting.

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